Qaeda in Yemen says ideological leader killed by drone

Militants from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been behind several plots against Western targets (AFP Photo/)

Dubai (AFP) - The ideological leader of Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed in a drone strike this week, allegedly by the United States, AQAP said in a statement published Tuesday.

Ibrahim al-Rubaish, who in January accused France of surpassing the United States as the top enemy of Islam, was killed with several other militants in a "crusader raid" on Monday, the statement said.

The statement published online was apparently referring to a drone attack that killed six suspected jihadists in their vehicle in Hadramawt province in southeast Yemen.

The United States, whose intelligence agencies consider AQAP to be the most dangerous branch of the jihadist network, is the only country that operates drones over Yemen.

Rubaish, a Saudi from the neighbouring kingdom's ultra-conservative Qassim region, "has spent two decades of his life in jihad, fighting America and its agents", the AQAP statement said.

He fought in Afghanistan and was held in the US military prison of Guantanamo for "a few years" before he joined AQAP following his release, it said.

AQAP was formed in 2009 after a merger between militants in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qaeda militants have exploited the breakdown of security as a Saudi-led coalition last month launched an air campaign against rebels amid fierce fighting between rival Yemen forces.

Among its gains, AQAP has seized Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged last week that Al-Qaeda was making gains and that the fighting in Yemen was complicating counter-terrorism efforts, but vowed that they would continue.

In an audio message in January, Rubaish urged attacks on the West, singling out France.

He also called on Muslims to target, "without consulting anyone", those who mock the Muslim prophet.

His message followed the deadly January 7 attack on satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was claimed by AQAP.

AQAP has a track record of launching attacks far from its base in Yemen, including an attempt to blow up an American airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.