Nabil al Kaldi and Abdullah Bawazir. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
A Yemeni jihadist has identified two of the five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula members who were killed in a US drone strike in eastern Yemen on Dec. 24. The two AQAP fighters escaped from a Yemeni prison 18 months ago.
The jihadist announced “the martyrdom of the two mujahideen brothers Abdullah Bawazir and Nabil al Kaldi” in a statement that was released today on the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Mujahideen forum, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the statement. Images of the two fighters, including photographs taken after their deaths, accompanied the announcement.
“They were martyred after an American drone strike with three rockets at a group of mujahideen near al-Watan stadium in the city of al Shehr, al Mukallah, today,” the jihadist continued, according to SITE. The identities of the other three fighters are not yet known.
According to the jihadist, Bawazir and al Kaldi appeared in an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula video titled “Story of Salvation,” which documented the June 2011 escape of the two fighters and other AQAP operatives from the Mukallah prison. In that incident, 46 inmates, including many al Qaeda operatives, escaped from the Mukallah prison after tunneling under it. The prisoners were said to have been aided by a “renegade military commander.”
On Dec. 24, the US launched two drone strikes in Yemen; the first strike killed a Yemeni and a Jordanian AQAP operative in Rada’a in the central province of Baydah. The second strike, which killed Bawazir and al Kaldi, took place in Shehr near Mukallah in Hadramout province. The drones targeted a group of AQAP fighters as they drove on motorcycles in Shehr.
The roles of Bawazir and al Kaldi in AQAP are unknown, but both men were most likely low-level fighters in the organization. So far, US drone strikes in Yemen have targeted both senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, and low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the government. This trend was first identified by The Long War Journal in the spring of 2012 [see LWJ report, US drone strike kills 8 AQAP fighters, from May 10]. Obama administration officials have claimed that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland.
The US has launched 40 drone strikes against AQAP in Yemen this year; the attacks have killed five senior AQAP operatives and leaders, along with numerous low-level fighters and local commanders. [For details on the drone strikes in Yemen, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2012, and US drone strikes kill Jordanian, Yemeni AQAP operatives.]