Al Qaeda figure reported dead
A drone strike killed a key leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen, militants say.
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.
YEMENIS fleeing warfare in their country arrive at the port of Djibouti, where a security official helps carry a young refugee.
IBRAHIM SULEIMAN RUBAISH was a religious leader of Al Qaeda and former Guantanamo prisoner.