An airstrike killed al-Qaedas No. 2 leader in Yemen along with five others travelling with him in one car on Monday,senior Yemeni Defence Ministry officials reported. If confirmed,Saeed al-Shihris death would be a major blow to the militant group.
The officials said the missile that killed al-Shihri,a Saudi national,was believed to have been fired by a US operated drone,but that couldnt immediately be confirmed. The US doesnt usually comment on such attacks although it has used drones in the past to go after al-Qaeda members in Yemen.
The Yemeni officials were elaborating on a brief Defence Ministry statement sent to Yemeni reporters on their mobile phones. A senior official at the Yemeni presidents office confirmed the attack,but said DNA tests have yet to establish al-Shihris identity. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity.
Al-Shihris death would amount to a major breakthrough for US efforts to cripple the group in Yemen,which is considered a crucial battleground with the terror network. The impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia and fellow oil-producing nations of the Gulf and lies on strategic sea routes leading to the Suez Canal.
Al-Shihri would be the latest in a series of al-Qaeda figures killed in drone strikes,including US-born Anwar al-Awlaki,who had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting US and Western interests,including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009.
Officials said the al-Qaeda in Yemen deputy was killed as he left a house in the southern Hadramawt province with his companions.
Rise of Saeed Al-Shihri
Al-Shihri,who is believed to be in his late 30s,fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay,before being released and going through Saudi Arabias famous rehabilitation institutes,designed to replace militant ideology with religious moderation. But he headed south to Yemen upon release and became deputy to Nasser al-Wahishi,the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.