- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death — and there have been many — this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead.
Shihri, who also went by the kunya Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, was a veteran jihadist who had operated in Afghanistan and Chechnya by the time he was captured by U.S. forces in December 2001. He was held for several years at Guantánamo Bay, but was released after attending a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia. Four months after his release, Shihri appeared in a video announcing the formation of AQAP, with him as deputy emir to former Osama bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi. He is believed to have helped plan AQAP’s 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and has been an aggressive fundraiser for the organization, sometimes to the chagrin of bin Laden and al Qaeda’s core leadership. Documents recovered from bin Laden’s Abbottabad safehouse included a letter criticizing Shihri’s efforts and requesting that AQAP start clearing its press releases with other al Qaeda leaders.
Shihri died in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen’s northern Saada province, according to AQAP’s video announcement. AQAP has a known presence in the area and has clashed with the Houthi movement, which controls much of the province. When Shihri was last reported dead, in January, the Yemeni government also attributed the cause of death to an airstrike in Saada.
AQAP’s message was delivered by Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, AQAP’s chief theologian — and a Saudi and Gitmo veteran like Shihri — who was rumored to be in line to succeed Shihri as AQAP’s number two when Shihri was last reported killed in January. But Rubaysh’s announcement on Wednesday did not include any mention of who might succeed the group’s deputy.