AL QAEDA’S NO. 2 IN YEMEN KILLED IN AIRSTRIKE

Wall Street Journal on September 10, 2012, published an AP report on an airstrike killing al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader in Yemen along with five others traveling with him in one car, senior Yemeni Defense Ministry officials reported. If confirmed, Saad al-Shehri’s death would be a blow to the militant group. Excerpts below:

The officials said the missile that killed Mr. al-Shehri, a Saudi national, was believed to have been fired by a U.S. operated drone, but that couldn’t immediately be confirmed. The U.S. doesn’t usually comment on such attacks although it has used drones in the past to go after al Qaeda members in Yemen.

His death would amount to a major breakthrough for U.S. efforts to cripple the group in Yemen, which is considered a crucial battleground with the terror network. The impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia and fellow oil-producing nations of the Gulf and lies on strategic sea routes leading to the Suez Canal.

Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch is seen as the world’s most active, planning and carrying out attacks against targets in and outside U.S. territory.

Mr. Al-Shehri would be the latest in a series of al Qaeda figures killed in drone strikes, including U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010.

Officials said the al Qaeda in Yemen deputy was killed as he left a house in the southern Hadramawt province with his five companions.

Al Qaeda in Yemen has been linked to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets, including the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and explosives-laden parcels intercepted aboard cargo flights last year.

Unlike other al Qaeda branches, the network’s militants in Yemen have gone beyond the concept of planting sleeper cells and actively sought to gain a territorial foothold in lawless areas, mainly in the south of Yemen, before they were pushed back by U.S.-backed government forces after months of intermittent battles.

The Yemen-based militants have struck at Western interests in the area twice in the past 12 years. In 2000, they bombed the USS Cole destroyer in Aden harbor, killing 17 sailors. Two years later, they struck a French oil tanker, also off Yemen.

U.S. drone strikes have intensified in Yemen in recent month, killing several key al Qaeda operatives.

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