Death of the head of Yemen’s “most dangerous branch” of Al Qaeda

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The’most deadly’ segment inside the terrorist network, an al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, lost its dreaded commander under unclear circumstances. Being the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Khalid al-Batarfi (pictured) was designated a “global terrorist” and had a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the US government.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death, AQAP has been viewed as the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda; nonetheless, the group is thought to have suffered from divisions and the possible death of its leaders by US drone attacks. Al-Qaeda has now published a film depicting top brass al-Batarfi covered in the black-and-white flag of the terror group and wrapped in a white funeral shroud, all without disclosing the cause of his death. Al-Qaeda veteran Ibrahim al-Qosi made the statement in a 15-minute video, but he did not provide any information about the reason behind his passing, nor did he appear to be traumatized.

Al-Batarfi, who was said to be in his early 40s, led soldiers in Yemen during the bloody conflict there after being detained and released in a jailbreak in 2015. According to SITE Intelligence Group, al-Qosi stated in the video that “Allah took his soul while he patiently sought his reward and stood firm, immigrated, garrisoned, and waged jihad for His sake.” On the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, which Yemen begins today, the statement was made. The gang declared in the statement that Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki will become its new leader. Al-Awlaki ‘has publicly called for strikes against the United States and its allies,’ according to the US, which has placed a $6 million bounty on him.

Since its 2009 attempt to blow up a commercial airplane over the United States, Washington has viewed al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch as the most dangerous branch within the terror network. It took credit for the fatal attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that occurred in Paris in 2015. However, in recent years, their foreign operations have decreased. ‘Although in decline, AQAP remains the most effective terrorist group in Yemen with intent to conduct operations in the region and beyond,’ a recent United Nations report on al-Qaeda said.

Following the death of commander Qassim al-Rimi due to an order from then-President Donald Trump for a US drone strike, he succeeded him. Three US sailors were killed in an incident at the US Naval Air Station Pensacola in 2019 that was attributed to Al-Rimi, a Saudi aviation cadet. The influence of Saif al-Adl, who is currently thought to have commanded the militant group following the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second general emir of al-Qaeda, in a US drone hit in Afghanistan in 2022, was felt more strongly by AQAP under al-Batarfi. Yemen has been embroiled in conflict for some time now between the Houthi rebels, who control the nation’s capital, Sanaa, and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports the government that is exiled and based in Aden.

According to a 2023 report by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, “Since 2020, Saif al-Adel has been able to convince al-Batarfi of his strategic approach, focused on confronting Western states and their allies in Yemen – the Saudi-led coalition, the Aden-based government, the United Arab Emirates and its allies – rather than confronting the Iranian-backed Houthi movement.” Al-Adl, who has a history of al-Qaeda activity in the Islamic Republic, is thought to be in Iran. Tehran has long denied this, but records found after the US raid in Pakistan in 2011 that killed bin Laden—the man responsible for planning the 9/11 attacks on the US—support this.

Experts claim that difficult connections existed in AQAP due to al-Batarfi’s ties to al-Adl. But in the midst of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip, the terrorists have acquired bomb-carrying drones, which they now use to target vessels in the Red Sea. According to a January UN assessment, AQAP “developed unmanned aerial systems capabilities, establishing a specialized drone unit, with operational training from the Houthis.”

“It prioritises liberating its prisoners to replenish ranks; in September, the Houthis released several AQAP members and explosives experts.” The Sunni extremist organization AQAP has been forbidden collaboration by the Zaydi Houthis, who are Shiite. But even while the terrorists are still attacking the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia, AQAP’s targeting of the Houthis has decreased in recent years.

Due to Yemen’s tribal structure and history, alliances have changed quickly; the country’s late strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh once described this as “dancing on the heads of snakes.” Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Al-Batarfi went to Afghanistan in 1999 and joined the Taliban in fighting during the invasion spearheaded by the United States. According to the U.S., he joined AQAP in 2010 and led soldiers in capturing Yemen’s Abyan province. He was set free in 2015 following an operation by the AQAP in which, in the midst of the fighting, the militants took control of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt, the largest province in Yemen. Pictures from that era showed al-Awlaki posing inside a government palace while brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle.

After being driven out of Mukalla, AQAP has persisted in its activities and has been the focus of a US drone strike operation since the George W. Bush administration. Al-Bartafi was allegedly detained in 2020, although these reports were later refuted. He made an appearance in a violent video in 2021, calling the disturbance at the US Capitol on January 6th “only the tip of the iceberg of what will come to them, God willing.”


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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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