Al Qaeda fig­ure re­ported dead

A drone strike killed a key leader of the group’s af­fil­i­ate in Ye­men, mil­i­tants say.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Pa­trick J. McDon­nell pa­trick.mcdon­nell @la­times.com Twit­ter: @md­c­neville Times staff writer Carol J. Wil­liams in Los An­ge­les and spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Nabih Bu­los in Am­man, Jor­dan, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

BEIRUT — Mil­i­tants said Tues­day that an airstrike had killed a key leader of Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, the Ye­meni­based branch of the ter­ror­ist net­work.

A mes­sage re­leased on Twit­ter said that Ibrahim Suleiman Rubaish, a for­mer prisoner at the U.S. detention cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, and a top re­li­gious fig­ure for the Al Qaeda fran­chise, was killed Mon­day in a “hate-filled Cru­sader strike,” ac­cord­ing to the SITE In­tel­li­gence Group, which mon­i­tors mil­i­tant web­sites. The post­ing did not say where the attack oc­curred.

Rubaish’s re­ported death may be an in­di­ca­tion that U.S. drone strikes against ex­trem­ist tar­gets in Ye­men are con­tin­u­ing de­spite the evac­u­a­tion of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel as the Arab coun­try’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has de­te­ri­o­rated. There was, how­ever, no im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion of his death from U.S. of­fi­cials, who had of­fered a re­ward of up to $5 mil­lion for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the ar­rest of the Saudi na­tional.

News of Rubaish’s re­ported killing came as the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil im­posed an arms em­bargo Tues­day on Houthi rebels who con­trol much of Ye­men, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal, Sana. The U.N. de­manded a Houthi with­drawal, black­listed a top Houthi of­fi­cial and one of his al­lies and called for the re­sump­tion of U.N.-bro­kered talks aimed at es­tab­lish­ing a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment.

But the ef­fect of the U.N. ac­tion, the lat­est in­ter­na­tional move aimed at halt­ing the Houthi ad­vance, ap­peared un­cer­tain. Ye­men is al­ready awash in arms, and the Houthi rebels have shown no signs of back­ing down to global pres­sure.

The ap­par­ent death of Rubaish, a charis­matic fig­ure who urged Mus­lims to wage holy war against enemies in the West and else­where, would be a con­sid­er­able blow for Al Qaeda. A vet­eran of the Afghanistan war, Rubaish has been a se­nior Al Qaeda ide­o­logue and out­spo­ken re­cruiter whose fiery ex­hor­ta­tions of­ten ap­peared in of­fi­cial Al Qaeda pro­nounce­ments.

Ye­men presents a com­plex bat­tle­field in which Wash­ing­ton is sup­port­ing a Saudi bomb­ing cam­paign against the Houthis, im­pla­ca­ble ad­ver­saries of Al Qaeda, but is also com­mit­ted to de­grad­ing Al Qaeda’s pres­ence in Ye­men.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­ducted covert drone strikes tar­get­ing lead­ers of the Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate in Ye­men, which U.S. of­fi­cials view as among the most pow­er­ful branches of the ter­ror­ist net­work. The cam­paign has killed many Al Qaeda op­er­a­tives but has also led to civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, drawing de­nun­ci­a­tions in Ye­men and abroad.

Be­fore Ye­men be­gan to veer to­ward civil war late last year, the White House of­ten cited the Persian Gulf na­tion as an ex­am­ple of the suc­cess of U.S. counter-ter­ror­ism strat­egy.

The Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate in Ye­men has been linked to a num­ber of strikes tar­get­ing West­ern na­tions, in­clud­ing the deadly attack on the Paris of­fices of the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo in Jan­uary and a thwarted at­tempt to blow up a U.S. air­liner on Christ­mas Day 2009.

Last month, neigh­bor­ing Saudi Ara­bia and al­lied Sunni Arab na­tions launched a bomb­ing cam­paign tar­get­ing the Houthi rebels, a pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite Mus­lim group that has been ad­vanc­ing on sev­eral fronts. Ye­men is en­gulfed in war­fare amid fear of a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe in the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion. A U.N.-led me­di­a­tion ef­fort has bro­ken down.

Saudi Ara­bia views the Houthis as a proxy of archri­val Iran, which is pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite. Tehran has de­nied arm­ing the Houthis and has called for an end to the Saudi-led bomb­ing and for the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment in Ye­men.

Tony Karumba AFP/Getty Images

YE­ME­NIS flee­ing war­fare in their coun­try ar­rive at the port of Dji­bouti, where a se­cu­rity of­fi­cial helps carry a young refugee.

U.S. State Depart­ment

IBRAHIM SULEIMAN RUBAISH was a re­li­gious leader of Al Qaeda and for­mer Guan­tanamo prisoner.

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