Top al-Qaida leader, Saeed al-Shihri, dies in Yemen

The Saudi national spent six years in Guantanamo Bay

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The Independent Online

Al-Qaida's deputy leader in Yemen has died, according to the country's news agency and a security official.

Saeed al-Shihri, also known as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, was hit in a US drone strike last October in the southern Yemeni city of Saada and the news agency says he had been in a coma ever since.

His precise time of death is unknown.

The Saudi national spent six years in Guantanamo Bay, after fighting in Afghanistan.

Washington considers the Islamist group's Yemeni franchise, known as al-Qaida in The Arabian Peninsula, the most dangerous of its offshoots. It was linked with the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and the explosives-laden parcels intercepted aboard cargo flights last year.

The Yemeni government had previously announced al-Shihri's death in September after a drone attack in Hadramawt province, but a DNA test proved that the body recovered was not that of al-Shihri.

And in October al-Shihri denied his own death in audio message posted on Jihadi websites.

At the time he denounced the government for spreading the "rumor about my death ... as though the killing of the mujahideen (holy warriors) by America is a victory to Islam and Muslims."

He went through Saudi Arabia's famous "rehabilitation" institutes after he returned to his home country, but then he fled to Yemen and became deputy to Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of an al-Qaida group.

In 2011, a high-profile U.S. drone strike killed US - born Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting US and Western interests.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, has fallen into lawlessness during a yearlong uprising starting in 2011, when millions of Yemenis took to the streets demanding the removal of their authoritarian ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Al-Qaida militants exploited the unrest and took control of large swaths of land in the south until last spring, when the military, backed by the US, managed to drive hundreds of militants out of major cities and towns.

Since then, the group has carried out deadly attacks targeting mostly security and military officials, including suicide bombings that targeted military and security compounds.