Report: Top al Qaeda commander in Yemen now dead, say local officials

The body of Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen who helped create the Yemen cell known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was taken by the group and reportedly buried at an undisclosed location in southern Yemen, officials from the Yemeni Embassy in Washington told Reuters on Friday. 


Al-Shihri was one of several AQAP members who were severely injured during a American drone strike in Hadramout province east of the capitol of Sana'a. While al-Shihri and others were able to escape the blast, six other AQAP militants were killed during the airstrike. 

AQAP is known as one of the most active and dangerous al Qaeda factions operating today. In 2012, the CIA foiled an plot by the Yemeni cell to blow up a commercial airliner bound for the United States from Yemen through a double agent run by British and Saudi intelligence. 

Al-Shihri's death is the latest result of ongoing efforts by American military and intelligence officials to dismantle the leadership core of AQAP and the organization's overall hierarchy. 

Last September, U.S. drones killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second-in-command, along with 15 other suspected terrorists during an airstrike against the suspected al Qaeda leader's hideout, located in North Waziristan along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Despite those successes, al Qaeda cells in North and West Africa have become increasingly active on the continent, spearheading the group's resurgence in the region. 

Earlier this month, French forces began military operations in the west African country of Mali, extremist fighters allied with al Qaeda's African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) who had seized the northern part of the country. 

A number of American and foreign hostages were taken by the al Qaeda-affiliated group "Masked Brigade" when the group overran a BP-owned oil refinery in Algeria in what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called a blatant "terrorist act." 

In the end, a number of Americans were among the 23 hostages killed in a botched attempt by Algerian special forces to rescue the hostages and take out the brigade gunmen at the oil facility. 

These flare ups in Africa, however, did not diminish the Obama administration's counterterrorism effort to decapitate al Qaeda's top leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. 

"We have taken the fight to al Qaeda both in its core location, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as to those affiliates that represent a threat to the United States and to Americans around the world," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday. 

The actions by African terror groups continued to be a concern to U.S. national security, but noted their actions did not represent a failure of American counterterrorism operations. 

"To this point, AQIM has not represented a direct threat to the homeland [and] ... our overall efforts to go after and contain and defeat extremists who would do harm to our interests," according to Carney.