Center for Strategic Communication

The US killed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s senior sharia, or Islamic law, official in a drone strike in early October, according to a Yemeni journalist who is closely connected to the terror group. Sheikh Abu Zubeir ‘Adil al’Abab, the sharia official, was described as AQAP’s fourth-most important leader.

Al’Abab was the “fourth man in the hierarchy of Qaedat al-Jihad Organization in the Arabian Peninsula,” according to a report by Abdul Razzaq al Jamal, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. A close follower of AQAP, al Jamal has traveled and embedded with the terror group, and has interviewed many AQAP senior and midlevel officials. He has also written articles that sympathized with the terror group’s attempts to control the region. AQAP has not released an official martyrdom statement announcing al’Abab’s death.

Al’Abab was killed in the Oct. 4 drone strike that targeted vehicles as they traveled in the Maqbala area in Shabwa province. Four AQAP fighters were reportedly killed in the strike.

According to al Jamal, al’Abab was the most important AQAP leader after Nasir al Wuhayshi, the group’s emir; Said al Shihri, the deputy emir; and Qassim al Rimi, AQAP’s military commander. Al’Abab is also the fourth-most important AQAP leader killed in a US drone strike after Abu Ali al Harithi, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Fahd al Quso, according to al Jamal.

As AQAP’s sharia official, al’Abab provided religious justification for AQAP’s operations, including suicide attacks. Additionally, al’Abab helped with AQAP’s propaganda efforts. Al’Abab “contributed articles to AQAP’s Arabic magazine, ‘Echo of the Epics’ (Sada al- Malahem), and answered questions about targeting non-Muslim civilians and Yemeni soldiers in the fourth issue of AQAP’s English magazine, ‘Inspire,'” according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Five senior AQAP leaders and operatives killed in drone strikes this year

Including al’Abab, five senior AQAP operatives have been killed in the 34 strikes in Yemen so far in 2012. The US has stepped up attacks in Yemen this year in support of Yemeni military operations to dislodge the terror group from sanctuaries in the south.

The most recent strike that killed a senior AQAP leader took place on Aug. 31. Khaled Batis, a wanted AQAP operative who is said to have been the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg, was killed in that attack.

On May 6, the US killed Fahd al Quso in a drone attack in Shabwa province. Quso, who has been described as AQAP’s external operations chief, was involved in numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. The US obtained the information leading to Quso from a Saudi operative who had penetrated AQAP.

The US killed Mohammed Saeed al Umda (a.k.a. Ghareeb al Taizi) in an April 22 drone strike on a convoy in the Al Samadah area of Marib province. Prior to the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, he had attended the Al Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan. Umda served as a member of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard in Afghanistan before returning to Yemen, and was involved in the October 2002 suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006.

And on Jan. 31, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province. Fatahani was also involved in the suicide attack on the USS Cole, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a direct threat to the homeland. The latest AQAP plot against the West, involving an underwear bomb that is nearly undetectable and was to be detonated on an airliner, was foiled earlier this year. The terror group has planned multiple attacks against targets in the US. A strike in Yemen last year killed both Anwar al Awlaki, the radical, US-born cleric who plotted attacks against the US, and Samir Khan, another American who served as a senior AQAP propagandist.