The United States successfully killed one of al-Qaida’s senior leaders in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, in an airstrike conducted in Yemen’s Shabwah governorate on June 16, according to Defense Department and CENTCOM releases.
Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, the emir for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed alongside two of his group’s associates in a strike that was coordinated in cooperation with the government of Yemen, Defense Officials stated.
Awlaqi has been the senior leader responsible for planning and executing terrorist attacks against civilians in Yemen, and was said to have “significant influence throughout al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s terrorist stronghold.”
“Senior AQAP leaders seek safe haven in places like Shabwah Governorate to plot attacks against the U.S., our interests, and our friends and allies across the world. Al Awlaqi’s death removes a trusted and experienced terrorist leader from AQAP’s ranks.” The release reads.
“In coordination with the government of Yemen, U.S. forces are conducting a series of sustained counterterrorism operations in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to degrade the group’s ability to hold territory and coordinate external terror attacks.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has taken advantage of ungoverned regions within Yemen to organize and plan terrorist attacks carried out elsewhere in the world, CENTCOM explains, and the group’s predecessors in the region have carried out attacks on places such as the U.S. Embassy-Sanaa in 2008, as well as the attempt to destroy the commercial flight Northwest Airlines 253 on Christmas Day in 2009. Awlaqi and the AQAP are also said to have planned to send explosive-laden parcels to Chicago in 2010.
Perhaps more influential than the AQAP’s attacks have been its propaganda arm, which prints an English-language magazine called “Inspire” that encourages lone wolf-style terrorist attacks on the West. The publication has been linked to domestic attacks within the United States such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting.
Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army Medical Corps psychiatrist that killed 13 people in the Fort Hood shooting was said to have exchanged e-mails with the now departed Awlaqi prior to staging his attack.
“AQAP is a formidable terror group that remains committed and capable of attacking U.S. citizens and the homeland. The Yemeni leadership is working with Arab allies to remove AQAP from its governorates.” CENTCOM stated.
The U.S. military has conducted more than 80 airstrikes against the AQAP in Yemen since President Trump took office in January. This marks a significant increase from the 38 strikes carried out in 2016, or the 22 carried out the year before that, though the ongoing fight against a different Islamist Extremist organization, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, tends to garner the majority of the media’s attention.
Yemen was also the site of a controversial raid carried out in January that cost the life of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens only days after President Trump took office. A second raid on May 23rd carried out by U.S. special operations troops that included Navy SEALS, successfully killed seven AQAP fighters and gathered important intel into Al Qaeda operations in the region.
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