An al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader who commanded forces in the restive southern Yemeni province of Abyan is reported to have been killed in a US drone strike that took place in a neighboring province four days ago.
Al Khidr Husayn al Ja’dani is said to have been killed in the July 30 strike that targeted a vehicle as it was traveling through the town of Saeed in the southern province of Shabwa, according to Aden al Ghad, an Arabic-language newspaper in southern Yemen. Two Yemenis, including al Ja’dani and another operative from Lahj province, and a Saudi AQAP operative were initially reported to have been killed in the strike.
Al Ja’dani was described by Aden al Ghad as a “leading figure in the armed groups known as Ansar al Sharia,” AQAP’s political front. He is also said to be AQAP’s overall commander in Abyan province. He is thought to have led a failed attempt to retake the city of Lawdar in 2012.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has not released a statement confirming or denying al Ja’dani’s death.
Al Ja’dani replaced Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani (Abdel-Monem al Fathani), the former emir for AQAP in Abyan province. Al Fatahani was involved in the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 US sailors and put the warship out of commission for months before it was repaired. Fatahani was also involved in a 2002 bombing in the Gulf of Aden that damaged the Limburg, a French-flagged oil tanker. One crew member was killed in the attack.
It is unclear if al Ja’dani was involved in AQAP’s external operations, which include plots to conduct attacks in the West. Al Qaeda operatives and leaders may be involved in both internal and external operations. For instance, AQAP bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri builds bombs and teaches others to do so for attacks both inside Yemen as well as against the West.
The US has targeted not only senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, but also low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the Yemeni 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, 2012]. Obama administration officials have claimed, however, that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting AQAP’s local insurgency against the Yemeni government.
The US has carried out 15 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year; three of those strikes have taken place since July 27. It is unclear if the strikes are part an effort to thwart attacks against US diplomatic facilities. The State Department will shut down 21 facilities in the Middle East and in other Muslim countries on Aug. 4 because of an unspecified threat linked to al Qaeda and its affiliates. US intelligence officials have said that AQAP is involved in this plot against diplomatic facilities and other US interests.