Top al Qaeda leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was killed in Yemen’s Hadramout region on Friday in a U.S. drone strike, two Yemeni national security officials reported on early Tuesday.
Al-Wuhayshi have been martyred, and AQAP military commander Qasm al-Rimi (also known as Abu Hureira al-Sanaani) has been appointed as his replacement, according to tweets from AQAP operatives.
There was no immediate statement from US officials. According to a U.S. intelligence official, U.S. authorities are looking to confirm al-Wuhayshi’s death. There was no immediate comment from the CIA, who referred queries about the drone strike to National Security Council.
Known as no 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and head of AQAP, al-Wuhayshi’s death is a major blow to the extremist outfit. The man known as al Qaeda’s crown prince was seen openly greeting followers, in a video that was published in April last year.
“We must eliminate the cross. … The bearer of the cross is America!” al-Wuhayashi made it clear in a speech to his followers that he’s group is going after the United States, in the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in the recent past, as revealed by the video.
al-Wuhayshi escaped an Yemeni prison in 2006, and worked as a personal secretary of Osama Bin Laden before he assumed command of the AQAP in 2009.
“If it’s true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters,” Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, told CNN on Monday.
U.S. planes carried out a strike in Libya purportedly killing a terror figure in North Africa, shortly after which the news of al-Wuhayshi’s death came. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist fighter, who is blind in one eye, affiliated with al Qaeda in North Africa was the target of the attack, according to an US official.
“This is a long, difficult struggle that we’re engaged in, and it’s going to require all kinds of tools,” King added saying the death would thwart the terror outfit but the group still poses threat.