Al-Qaeda in Yemen leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi has been killed in a U.S. bombing, the group said in a statement posted online Tuesday morning.
“Our Muslim nation, a hero of your heroes and a master of your masters left to God, steadfast,” senior operative Khaled Batrafi said in the video. “To the infidel America: God has kept alive those who will trouble your life and make you taste the bitterness of defeat.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had met and appointed its former military chief Qassim al-Raimi as his replacement, Batrafi said.
The death of Wuhayshi is the latest in a series of targeted killings of the Yemen affiliate's top leaders in recent weeks. Yemeni security officials had earlier said a U.S. drone strike killed three suspected AQAP members in Mukalla last week. U.S. officials had said they were trying to verify whether Wuhayshi had been killed.
AQAP is best known for attempting to bring down a U.S. airliner and for its links to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Some U.S. officials consider the group the most dangerous node of the global network and the ranks of AQAP have only grown along with the turmoil in Yemen.
Wuhayshi, believed to be at least 37 years old, was a Yemeni citizen from the province of Abeen, southeast of the capital Sanaa. In 2009, he announced the creation of AQAP, which gathered together Yemeni and Saudi factions. A year later, the United Nations Security Council named him as one of the most dangerous members of the armed group.
Wuhayshi is believed to have started training in 1990 in Afghanistan, which is where he became close to Osama bin Laden. He became his close aide and managed his finances and personal issues.
While Wuhayshi’s death is believed to be a setback for AQAP, the group's master bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, is believed to still be alive. He is thought to have designed bombs that were slipped past security and placed on three separate American-bound airplanes, although none of them exploded.
News of the possible death of Wuhayshi was first reported by The Washington Post, which on Monday night said that he was targeted in a CIA drone strike last week. There had been Arab media reports and Tweets from AQAP sympathizers that Wuhayshi, a top lieutenant to AQAP leader Ayman al-Zawahri, had been killed.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Wuhayshi’s death “would be a significant blow to the core of the terrorist organization and its most dangerous franchise.”
As Al-Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed, Schiff said “Zawahri has been increasingly reliant on a small cadre of loyal lieutenants. As one of those top lieutenants, al-Wuhayshi has played an important role in keeping Al-Qaeda factions aligned with al-Zawahri in the face of rival pressures” from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Raimi, the new leader of AQAP, is thought to be the brains behind a series of attacks, including a foiled plot to mail bombs to the United States and multiple attacks against Yemen's U.S.-backed government. In writings and videos, he has vowed to topple the Sanaa government and strike America.
Hisham al-Omeisy, a Yemen analyst in Sanaa, said that the new Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen is “more dangerous and aggressive” than Wuhayshi, adding, “You will be seeing a more aggressive Al-Qaeda.”
Al Jazeera with wire services