January 24, 2013
No. 2 Leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen Is Killed
By MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON -- Said Ali al-Shihri, the second-ranking operative in Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, died recently from wounds he received during a "counterterrorism operation" late last year, Yemen's government announced Thursday.
Mr. Shihri, who fled Saudi Arabia in 2008 after taking part in a Saudi government rehabilitation program for jihadis, was a principal figure in engineering the rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the past five years.
The Yemeni government statement gave no specifics about how Mr. Shihri was killed, although both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon in the last several months have escalated America's clandestine campaign against militants in Yemen with a series of drone strikes. The Yemeni statement said Mr. Shihri had been wounded in a strike on Nov. 28 in Sadah Province in northern Yemen and was buried in an undisclosed location.
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment on the death of Mr. Shihri, who was a Saudi citizen.
Mr. Shihri was one of the first inmates of the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was brought to the prison in January 2002 after being wounded in an airstrike in Afghanistan two months earlier. He spent five years at Guantanamo before American officials released him into the Saudi program, which the kingdom's ruling family set up to persuade jihadis to denounce violence and integrate into Saudi society.
But he fled Saudi Arabia the next year, and American officials were puzzled about his whereabouts until Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a statement on the Internet in early 2009 saying that Mr. Shihri was the group's new deputy commander.
Yemeni officials have blamed Mr. Shihri for a number of terrorist attacks in the country, and the statement on Thursday said that he "oversaw military operations against the Yemeni military" in Abyan Province, in the southern part of the country.
Yemen's government allows the United States to carry out secret strikes inside the country, but it usually tries to mask the United States' role, often by saying that the operations are conducted by the Yemeni military.