Confirmed: US drone strike killed key al-Qa'ida leader Saeed al-Shihri in Yemen

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner was hit last year but Yemen branch has just announced death

The Yemen-based branch of al-Qa'ida confirmed today that the group's No. 2 figure, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, was killed in a US drone strike.

The announcement, posted on militant websites, gave no date for the death of Saudi-born Saeed al-Shihri.

The confirmation was significant, however, because al-Shihri had twice before been reported dead but the terror group later denied those reports.

His killing is considered a major blow to the Yemen-based al-Qa'ida branch, known as al-Qa'ida in The Arabian Peninsula.

Yemeni security officials said al-Shihri died of serious injuries sustained when a drone strike targeted him in November last year.

Al-Shihri had survived an earlier drone attack, in September 2012, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

Wednesday's announcement came in a video purporting to show the group's chief theologian, Ibrahim al-Robaish, eulogizing al-Shihri.

In the video, al-Robaish said al-Shihri was hit by the drone while speaking on his mobile telephone in the province of Saadah, north of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

The authenticity of the video, which was first reported by the US monitoring service SITE, could not be independently confirmed but it appeared on militant websites commonly used by al-Qa'ida.

Al-Shihri, also known as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in Guantanamo. He was returned to Saudi Arabia in late 2007 and later fled to Yemen to join the al-Qa'ida branch there.

In one of his last videos, which appeared on the Internet in April, al-Shihri harshly criticized Yemen's neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, for its policy of allowing the United States to launch deadly drone strikes from bases in the kingdom.

Washington considers the Yemen-based al-Qa'ida to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network after it was linked to several attempted attacks on US targets, including the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

The group made major territorial gains in Yemen last year, following the uprising that forced the country's longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after more than 30 years in power. al-Qa'ida militants and their allies seized several towns and cities in the south of the country before they were pushed back in a months-long, US-aided military campaign by government forces last year.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in office since last year, has worked closely with the US in pushing the group back.

An offensive by Yemeni troops backed by US airpower and advisers drove militants out of the southern cities and into mountain hideouts. Airstrikes, believed to be by US drones, have killed a number of key al-Qa'ida operatives.

Yemen is the most impoverished Arab nation. Its long coastline along the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea gives the nation a strategic commercial and military value. Its proximity to the Horn of Africa gives it the additional closeness to al-Qa'ida concentrations just across the waters in Africa.

Yemen's weak central authority, its complex tribal system and the remoteness of some of its regions have proven it to be an irresistible destination for al-Qa'ida militants from across the globe looking for a safer base.

There are no exact figures for the number of al-Qa'ida militants in Yemen, but they are widely believed to be in the hundreds and backed by a vast network of sympathizers in Yemen and abroad.

In 2011, a high-profile US 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, including the 2009 attempt on the Detroit-bound airliner and the 2010 plot against cargo planes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?