U.S. killed a top al-Qaida leader in Yemen, reports say

Sean D. Naylor
National Security Correspondent

The leader of al-Qaida’s Yemen branch is believed to have been killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this year.

The New York Times said three current or former U.S. officials “expressed confidence” that Qasim al-Raymi, the emir of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed in Yemen, although there was no official confirmation.

U.S. forces had been tracking al-Raymi for months, and there was a $10 million price on his head.

It is unclear whether the strike was carried out by the U.S. military or the CIA. Spokespersons for U.S. Central Command, the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment.

For more than five years, al-Raymi, a native of Yemen, had eluded U.S. forces as he led what experts sometimes refer to as al-Qaida’s “most dangerous franchise.” If confirmed, his death would be “very significant,” said Mick Mulroy, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East until late last year.

“He’s a real bad actor,” said Mulroy, who is also a retired CIA paramilitary operations officer and an ABC news analyst. “This is a big win for us.”

Al-Raymi, 41, had been on the United States’ radar for years. After training other militants in al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, he returned to Yemen and became a commander of AQAP, according to the U.S. government’s Rewards for Justice website. In 2005 he was sentenced to five years in prison for planning to assassinate the U.S. ambassador, but he escaped the following year. 

Since then he has been linked to some of AQAP’s highest-profile attacks, including a September 2008 assault on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, that killed 10 Yemeni guards and six civilians.

After swearing allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Raymi was named the emir of AQAP in 2015. The United States offered a $5 million reward for information on his whereabouts in 2014 and raised it to $10 million in 2018.

This was not the first time the United States had tried to get al-Raymi. He was the target of the Jan. 29, 2017, special operations raid in which Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed, according to Mulroy. “The United States never forgets,” he said.

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