Analysis: Al Qaeda in Yemen suffers another blow as top Saudi member is killed
September 11th, 2012
12:00 AM ET

Analysis: Al Qaeda in Yemen suffers another blow as top Saudi member is killed

By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri was prisoner number 327 at the Guantanamo Bay, Cubla, detention center, transported there after being captured as he tried to cross the border into Pakistan from Afghanistan late in 2001.

But in 2007 he argued before a review board that he was a Muslim - not a terrorist - and if allowed to return home to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia he would join his family's furniture business.

Al-Shihri was repatriated and put through a rehabilitation program, but within months absconded to become one of the founding members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in neighboring Yemen.

Four years later, his reported demise - in the remote and mountainous Hadramawt province - is a significant success for Yemen's armed forces in their re-energized campaign against AQAP and its allies in the south and east of the country.

Al-Shihri was the most senior Saudi figure in the group and important to its recruitment and fund-raising. And despite his relative youth (he was about 40) he had plenty of experience in jihadist circles. He had fought in Chechnya and trained in urban warfare at an al Qaeda camp near Kabul before the Taliban were overthrown.

According to local officials in Yemen, al-Shihri was killed by a U.S. drone strike against a car in which he and other militants were traveling, after being tracked for several days. It is further evidence of the growing liaison between the two governments since President Abdurabu Mansour Hadi took office earlier this year.

Al-Shihri's demise follows the killing of U.S.-educated al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki a year ago and senior operative Fahd al-Quso in May.

More recently there appears to have been a dramatic uptick in the U.S. drone campaign, often with controversial consequences. Just last week an air-strike killed 10 civilians in Rada'a, after missiles missed a vehicle carrying a local al Qaeda leader. Local tribal leaders blamed U.S. drones for the deaths.

But the expansion of the drone attacks has undoubtedly forced AQAP's leadership onto the back-foot.

Mustafa Alani, director of National Security and Terrorism at the Gulf Research Center, says U.S. drone strikes have done great damage to AQAP - much as they have to al Qaeda in Pakistan. One drone strike in August killed a Yemeni bomb-maker Abdullah Awad al-Masri who was suspected of assembling suicide vests and car bombs for use in attacks inside Yemen.

Six months ago, al Qaeda and its allies controlled several towns in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwah. A military offensive in the air and on the ground, supported by pro-government militia, has gradually uprooted these self-declared "Emirates." White House Counter-Terrorism Advisor John Brennan spoke of "unprecedented pressure" from Yemen's armed forces against AQAP.

President Hadi is gradually asserting control of the military to rein in the influence of relatives of his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, by seeking to give the better brigades more independence and their own budgets.

There are also signs of division and defections within AQAP.

A Gulf security analyst briefed by Saudi and other regional counterterrorism agencies tells CNN that a number of Saudis within AQAP have given up the fight in recent months. One of them was another former Guantanamo inmate, Adnan al-Sayegh, who gave himself up to Saudi authorities in late July.

According to the Saudi newspaper Al Hayat, al-Sayegh and other Saudi fighters disagreed with the focus on fighting the Yemeni military and had grown weary of constantly shifting locations to dodge drone strikes. In addition, in an atmosphere of growing distrust within the group, AQAP commanders had banned Saudi militants from making unsupervised phone calls to their families, according to the newspaper, for fear of infiltration.

In April a British mole within AQAP working for Saudi intelligence thwarted a plot by the group for him to target a U.S.-bound airliner on a suicide bombing. One senior official in the region said the bomb was more advanced than any the group had previously made.

No one is about to proclaim victory. Yemen's multi-layered crisis includes not only the most visceral threat of any al Qaeda franchise, but secessionist groups in the south, continuing tensions within the military and a desperate humanitarian situation.

And Time correspondent Casey Coombs wrote recently that some pro-government Popular Resistance Committees had quickly become disenchanted with a lack of support from the military. Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington last month that the task was now for Yemeni forces to "hold and build" in areas cleared of al Qaeda fighters.

As it has been driven out of areas it controlled, AQAP has resorted to devastating suicide bombings in Yemen's major cities, and the assassination of pro-government militia leaders.

One Saturday morning last month a car approached the offices of Yemen's state broadcaster in the port city of Aden. It exploded, destroying a military vehicle outside. Militants then attacked the neighboring intelligence headquarters, detonating another car bomb in the process. At least 14 security officials were killed.

That followed attacks on military parades and police recruits in the capital that killed well over 100.

And there are still plenty of Saudi al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. They include the likes of Ibrahim al-Asiri, a master bomber suspected of building devices targeting U.S.-bound planes.

A Yemeni official told CNN that al-Asiri remains the greatest worry - especially as the most recent plot uncovered suggested he had mastered a new explosives formula.

Alani told CNN that an increasing number of Somalis had been killed or arrested inside Yemen in recent weeks, and that Somalis were among those arrested in August in a raid on a safe house in Jaar. "They are basically foot soldiers," he said.

Alani says AQAP's strategy is to withdraw from areas where it was under pressure and surge back when offered the opportunity. That may arise if the military and Popular Committees can't overcome their differences - or if intra-military rivalries flare up again.

soundoff (66 Responses)
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  6. Meatball Maggliori


    We are Hindus from India,
    And we like to put on the Bindiya,
    We are mostly Haris,
    But we like to put on the Saris,
    Sadly, we are nothing but Bhikaris,
    Sadly, we are nothing but Bhikaris,

    September 12, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply
  7. brain in my head

    If any of you people had a shred of culture or intellect you would make more intelligent statements and not sound like a bunch of uneducated pillbillies from white bread america what a disgrace to your own country I'm ashamed I even particapated here

    September 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  8. Obelisk

    So the only way to peace in Afghanistan is dismantling the terrorist network and financing emanating from India, cutting it up into smaller nations along the lines of communist USSR and let smaller and more gentle and economically dynamic states emerge

    September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  9. Suleman hussain

    September 11, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply

    India poses a clear and present danger to the regional security of the world. USA...NATO...Pakistan and Afghanistan people and armed forces. Hindu cult extremism is on the rise and fanning all terrorism worldwide. Indians are the bankers to and financing terrorism and supporting Talibans and Al Qaeda and harboring them in India. These terrorists are being entertained in the Indian parliament building in New Delhi where they are residing and then smuggled over to Pakistan in Indian Army helicopters. Shame on these Indians. Like the NAZI's they need to be stopped forcefully and immediately. If it takes bombing lets bomb India, if it takes Drones...lets drone New Delhi

    September 11, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
    • Amarjit Singh Bedi

      Apparently, Sonia Gandhi has a particular liking for Dad Haqqani. He frequents her bungalow frequently. Wonder why? Sing bhajans ??? LMAO !!!!!

      September 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  11. Hadley0200

    Mumbai and Chennai are the illegal cricket gambling capitals of the world. Cash Flows from these operations are being siphoned off by the Indian government to finance terrorists globally, particularly in the region. This off the book financing is also being used, in the case of sales of illegal booze, to finance terrorism. This way the indians are able to dodge the american financial radar.The american congressional politicians have been alerted to the double game Indians are playing.

    September 11, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
    • Julius Kathwari_Bareilly_Hindustan

      Friends and countrymen, lend me your ears;
      I come to bury India, not to praise it.
      The evil that India has done will live after it;
      There is no good in the bones of any Indian body.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  12. Ain't No Boy Young Enough for Mahatma Gandhi

    Sadly Gandhi
    Among the various charges disclosed in the book: Gandhi not only slept with young girls and boys under the age of 18 and banged them two at a time but also did his goat (gita) for whom India's peace icon at one point left his wife in 1908. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

    September 11, 2012 at 10:10 am | Reply
    • Colby

      This Gandhi guy was a sicko. I took my dog Lester out for a walk in NYC and he p!ssed on Gandhi's statute. We will tear it down.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
    • RSS

      jinnah was gandhis boy toy

      September 11, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
      • JOKES

        Who is jemimah? It is a girl's name. BTW Gandhi, on the reverse, loved to be banged by Gaffar Khan and Nehru

        September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
      • Jonathan Dough

        Was that Aunt Jemimah?

        September 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  13. JOKES

    must be funny to be born as pakistani gir .. live in a tent .. no school food.. marry your brother or uncle age of 6


    September 11, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • Hindus the Dung Worshippers

      You got mixed up again you moron...OK let's start again....YOU NEED TO REINCARNATE AS A GIRL IN INDIA....STUPID !!! ROFL !!!!

      To be young and in love has proved fatal for many young girls and boys in parts of north India as an intolerant and bigoted society refuses to accept any violation of its rigid code of decorum, especially when it comes to women. The two teenage girls who were shot dead last week by a cousin in Noida for daring to run away to meet their boyfriends are the latest victims of honour killings, a euphemism for doing away with anyone seen as spoiling the family's reputation. Many such killings are happening with regularity in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. These are socially sanctioned by caste panchayats and carried out by mobs with the connivance of family members.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
      • Ashley

        What a medieval society

        September 11, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  14. For Your Eyes Only

    HQ: New Delhi
    Coordinates: 28° 36' N and 77° 12' E


    LEADERS: L.K. Advani/ Ashok Singhal/ Bala Saheb Devaras/ Bal Thackeray/ A.B. Vajpayee/ Savarkar/ Baikunnth Lal Sharma “Prem”/ Balraj Madhok/ The Shankaracharya of Puri, Niranjan Dev Theerth/ Rama Gopalan/ Variyar – Vishwan Hindu Parishad/ Dharmalinga Nadar/ Cho Ramaswamy

    September 11, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • RSS

      we love to kick paki arss ... ask your ammi why she walks funny 😉

      September 11, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
      • Hindus the Dung Worshippers

        Mooooo......Mooooo.....Go have some cow meat......some pork.....oink....oink.

        September 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  15. krm1007 ©™

    We now need to focus on India. The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2 million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power.

    We continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to India. Although Mies Van Der Rohe adopted this in an architectural context, its economic and political connotations are indeed powerful. Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment. We concur with this approach and find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern. Again, we saw how a few teenage talibans were able to invade it with a few BB guns. And that says a lot... in a negative way not only for a large unmanageable country like India but also for USA which is trying to prop it up against China. Besides, Americans cannot afford to look like losers in the midst of a terror war which has lasted for over ten years now

    September 11, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • Eric Fox

      I concur with you. "Small is Beautiful" in economic terms.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply
    • Casby

      US is the super power and cannot afford being linked to cowardly nations like India who always have their hands out for aid and bring nothing to the table. Don't mess with US..people...we are numero uno.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
    • Sarah G

      India has become too big to govern or create any value for western countries or even for its own population. We have invested a lot of resources in India over the past two decades and given a lot of aid to prop it up. There has been no investment on this return. Instead India has squandered all the resources in building nuclear weapons while poverty remains rampant in the country. We need to revisit our relationship with India. American taxpayers will not tolerate this anymore. We need to take care of our own populace going forward. We cannot be exporting jobs to India or giving it financial or technical handouts.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:24 am | Reply
  16. JOKES

    I'd love to be reincarnated as a girl Paki.

    I mean, imagine how cool it would be to have a moustache at 5 years old


    September 11, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
    • Hindus the Dung Worshippers

      You will enjoy coming back as a hindu girl instead.....LMFAO !!!!

      In some Haryana villages in India, the young girls are routinely threatened, abused and killed all under Khap (tribe/clan) verdicts. It is acceptable for the families to feed pesticide pills to the teenage girls and then dispose off their bodies by burning them without any police records.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
      • RSS

        pakistani mullas just frame mentally chalanged xtians girls ;(

        September 11, 2012 at 10:00 am |
      • Colby

        That is s a shame. Next time I talk to a call center person from India I will give them a piece of my mind. We need to immediately move our call centers to USA and bring jobs back home.

        September 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • brain in my head

      jokin around is one thing even making light of a serious subject is tolerable but pickin on kids is pretty weak make a contribution to improvemrnt stop the ignorance!

      September 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  17. porkistan land of impure

    hahahahhaha look at this tw@t i bet he didnt know what hit him and next he was enjoying his 72 donkeys .. with his
    dead husband osama

    September 11, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  18. boltshaket

    Haha! Al Qaeda is weak and getting weaker! Dont mess with the US!! Number1.

    September 11, 2012 at 5:31 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Spoken like a true right-wing, ignorant, hillbillie Tea Partier from the South! Good grief, no wonder this country's in trouble with goons like you!!!

      September 11, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  19. Mark

    Ridiculous... why do we PURPORT to be fighting "al qaeda" in Yemen, while financially and militarily supporting them in Syria against the Assad regime?
    How is giving them the run of Syria, including allowing them to capture anti-aircraft as well as chemical weapons conducive to this circus run by clowns called the "war on terror"?

    Wake up and smell the feces being poked in your eyes and ears!

    September 11, 2012 at 2:35 am | Reply
  20. Tahir Shaheedi

    Theres more proof that Pakistan was capturing Al Qaeda pigs fleeing Afghanistan, Osama Bin Ladin was not protected by Pakistan, there was no love in the general public and certainly not the military for Al Qaeda who killed thousands of Pakistani soldiers, a large number of officers included.

    Blaming Pak for somehow protecting OBL is like blaming the CIA for helping the 19 hijackers of 911 becuause they were getting flying lessons and drivers licenses.

    Glad another pig hits the dust.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:11 am | Reply
  21. mohamad

    we hope to see a close end to the Qaeda in Yemen with the killing of Saeed Shihri...i can say for sure he was killed and there is no doubt about it at all....hope this is a real blow to Qaeda in our country....

    September 11, 2012 at 1:26 am | Reply
    • Ayb Lyncoln

      Their knees are week and trembeling.... America is stronger then ever!

      September 11, 2012 at 6:17 am | Reply
  22. Tony Opal

    Where is Cubla located?

    September 11, 2012 at 1:10 am | Reply
    • jpopplewell

      In the Carillean Sea.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:27 am | Reply
    • chip

      90 miles south of Key West FL. Get a map

      September 11, 2012 at 2:09 am | Reply
      • Cubla

        Really? I have never heard of Cubla either. I know of CUBA being south of KW. ;P

        September 11, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  23. Xira Arien

    When you take everything from a person, throw them into some dung-hole, then expect them to come out miraculously changed rather than a ready tool for the opposition, you fail before you start.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
    • Brandon

      It's not a dung-hole that fosters change. It is solitude, confinement. When you are stripped down to nothing all you have is yourself. At which time it is your one else's.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:31 am | Reply

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