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Yemen Al-Qaeda leader killed in drone strike, group says

Top cleric's death may be a sign that US drone program in Yemen continues despite evacuation of its military personnel

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) top cleric, a Saudi national who had a $5 million bounty on his head, has been killed, according to a statement distributed Tuesday by the group.

AQAP said that Ibrahim al-Rubaish was killed in a drone attack on Sunday. The group did not specify where the purported strike took place.

The death of al-Rubaish may be a sign that a covert United States drone program against AQAP continues despite the evacuation of U.S. military advisers from the country amid a worsening civil war.

Yemeni and U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the claim.

Al-Rubaish was captured along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and held in Guantánamo Bay for several years before being transferred to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation. He later escaped from custody and became one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted men in 2009.

He was considered AQAP's main ideologue and theological adviser, and his writings and sermons were prominent in its publications. “He was a brave warrior in the front lines, and a good Islamic scholar as well,” AQAP said. 

Al-Rubaish has served as a top AQAP spiritual leader since 2013 and provided justification for attacks conducted by the group and attacks against the U.S., according to the State Department

Al Jazeera and wire services

This 2014 wanted poster from website of the U.S. State Department's Rewards For Justice program shows a mugshot of Ibrahim al-Rubaish, the top cleric of Yemen's al-Qaida branch.

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