Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen Jalal Baleedi 'killed in drone strike'

Jalal Baleedi and his aides were reportedly travelling in a car targeted by a missile

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 04 February 2016 09:40 GMT
Jalal Baleedi appearing in an AQAP propaganda video in 2014
Jalal Baleedi appearing in an AQAP propaganda video in 2014 (YouTube)

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The leader of an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group controlling swathes of war-torn Yemen has reportedly been killed in a US drone strike.

Jalal Baleedi was among 12 Islamist militants killed overnight in the south of the country, where the government backed by Saudi-led forces, Houthi rebels, Isis and al-Qaeda are battling for control.

One strike killed six men in a car travelling in Ar Rawdah, Shabwa province, a remote desert area where Islamist militants are believed to be operating. The province has been targeted by several drone strikes this year.

Yemeni forces regain strategic town from Houthis

Another attack hit militants in their car in the coastal Abyan province, killing six occupants said to include Baleedi.

Also known as Hamza al-Zinjibari, he was the leader of Ansar al-Sharia, which is an alias for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In an interview with the Yemen Times in 2012, he dismissed reports of civilian resistance against his fighters and claimed his group’s forced implementation of Sharia Law was “honest and fair”.

“We don’t fight only with weapons - Allah is always with us,” he added.

“We have nothing to lose; we are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah.

“All people know that our battle is against America and the military and its mercenaries who support them.”

Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen
Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen (Getty Images)

The US State Department said Ansar al-Sharia was established to attract more followers in an attempt for the group to “rebrand itself (and) manipulate people to join its terrorist cause” in Yemen.

The group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks killing hundreds of Yemeni soldiers and security forces, as well as suicide bombings, as it continues to fight a bloody insurgency in the country’s ongoing civil war.

The group has enabled AQAP to take advantage of the war pitting Houthi militiamen against forces loyal to Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to grab territory and operate more openly.

There were unconfirmed reports that Baleedi recently defected to Isis, which is also operating Yemen, and had become the group’s new head in the country.

AQAP, seen as the deadliest branch of al-Qaeda in the world, has faced ideological competition from the so-called Islamic State, which has siphoned off recruits as it has launched spectacular attacks against Shia Muslim mosques and government targets.

The group has claimed credit for several thwarted attacks on US-bound airliners as well as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, which was carried out by two of its supporters.

The US has maintained a drone campaign against the militants, adding to near-daily air strikes by a Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition, which intervened in the war last March to rout the Iran-backed Houthis and restore Hadi's government.

Previous American drone strikes, which normally use Hellfire missiles, have killed some of AQAP's top leaders, including its chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi last June.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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