SANAA, Yemen — The Yemeni government reported the death on Thursday of a top leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who died of wounds suffered in a November “counterterrorism operation” in the northern province of Saada.
Deputy Emir Saeed al-Shihri was the highest-ranking Saudi member of the group. Al-Qaida-linked terrorists buried him in an undisclosed location, the government said.
“His death, if true, would not destroy the capabilities of the organization, but it would be the biggest blow to AQAP in more than three years of U.S. bombing raids,” said Gregory Johnsen, the author of “The Last Refuge,” a recent book on Yemen and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
According to U.S. government documents, after traveling to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 and training with terrorists in a camp north of Kabul, al-Shihri was captured in December 2001 while attempting to cross the border into Pakistan. He was transferred eventually to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and imprisoned for six years.
He then was transferred to the custody of his home country, which placed him in a “jihadi rehabilitation program.” After his release in 2008, al-Shihri traveled south to Yemen to rejoin the fight.
Months after being declared rehabilitated, al-Shihri resurfaced in a video with Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a fellow Afghanistan veteran who heads al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Shihri is thought to have supervised the group's Saudi operatives in addition to playing a key role in operations in Yemen and abroad. He allegedly took part in planning a 2009 assassination attempt on Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, a 2008 bombing on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and, according to the Yemeni government, oversaw the group's military operations.
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