HADHRAMAUT, Yemen — Top al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen’s Hadramout region, according to two Yemeni national security officials.
Tweets from known AQAP operatives also speak of al-Wuhayshi having been martyred, and of AQAP military commander Qasm al-Rimi (also known as Abu Hureira al-Sanaani) having been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s replacement.
U.S. authorities are looking to confirm al-Wuhayshi’s death, according to one U.S. intelligence official.
Al-Wuhayshi was the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the head of AQAP. In a video that surfaced in April last year, the man who was known as al Qaeda’s crown prince appeared brazenly out in the open, greeting followers.
In a speech to the group, al-Wuhayshi makes it clear that he’s going after the United States, saying: “We must eliminate the cross. … The bearer of the cross is America!”
The video showed what looked like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
Originally from Yemen, al-Wuhayshi assumed command of AQAP in 2009. He’d escaped a Yemeni prison in 2006, and had previously worked as a personal secretary for Osama bin Laden.
“If it’s true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters,” Sen. Angus King, an independent of Maine, told CNN.
King said the death would hurt al Qaeda, but stressed the group still poses a threat.
“This is a long, difficult struggle that we’re engaged in, and it’s going to require all kinds of tools,” King said.