A U.S. airstrike has killed Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, who commanded its powerful Yemeni affiliate, dealing the global network its biggest blow since the killing of Osama bin Laden and eliminating a charismatic leader at a time when it is vying with the Islamic State group for the mantle of global jihad.
Nasir al-Wahishi is the latest in a series of senior figures from al-Qaida’s Yemen branch eliminated by U.S. drone strikes the past five months, including its top ideologue and a senior military commander. The U.S. has intensified its campaign, trying to push back the group as it has captured new territory in Yemen by taking advantage of the southern Arabian nation’s chronic chaos.
The US activity against al-Qaida is also not limited in Yemen. Over the weekend, a U.S. airstrike in Yemen targeted an al-Qaida-linked militant commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who led a 2013 attack on an Algerian gas complex that killed 35 hostages including several Americans. US officials are still trying to confirm whether he was killed in the raid.
Al-Wahishi was a former aide to bin Laden who, after the al-Qaida affiliate in Saudi Arabia was crushed in the mid-2000s, rebuilt it in his homeland Yemen and turned it into the terror network’s most dangerous branch. He also served as deputy to Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded bin Laden in 2011 as the network’s leader. The U.S. put a bounty of up to $10 million on al-Wahishi.
The Yemeni branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for January’s attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people. It also attempted several direct attacks on the United States including the botched 2009 plot to bomb an American passenger jet.