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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] - 2020

Qasim al-RimiPresident Donald Trump confirmed 06 February 2020 that the US had killed the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – days after the jihadist group claimed responsibility for the December 2019 mass shooting at the US naval base in Pensacola FL. The US "conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi, a founder and the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)", Trump said in a White House statement. AQAP claimed responsibility for the 06 December 2019 shooting at US Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, in which a Saudi Air Force officer killed three American sailors.

"Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces," Trump said. "His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security." Trump did not give any details about the circumstances or the timing of the operation.

AQAP’s original leadership was composed of the group’s now-deceased amir Nasir al-Wahishi; now-deceased deputy amir Sa‘id al-Shahri; and Wahishi’s successor as amir, Qasim al-Rimi. Dual US-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had a worldwide following as a radical ideologue and propagandist, was the most prominent member of AQAP; he was killed in an explosion in September 2011. Throughout 2015, AQAP has sustained rapid and cumulative losses to its leadership ranks, including the death of Nasir al-Wahishi. Shortly after Wahishi’s death, AQAP released a video naming the group’s long-time operational commander Qasim al-Rimi as Wahishi’s successor.

Born in Yemen in 1978, he joined Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan when he was in his 20s and trained terrorists at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He subsequently returned to Yemen and became an AQAP military commander. In 2005 Al-Rimi was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted in Yemen of plotting to assassinate the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. However he escaped from a Yemeni prison after serving one year, along with 22 other prisoners, including Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who later became the emir of AQAP. Rimi was particularly active in 2009, when AQAP attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airline flight on Christmas Day by packing explosives in the underwear of a Nigerian operative. This group was one of the most active in attacking American interests because beyond propaganda, they had the means to do so, they had the human skills to do so.

In May 2010, the Department of State designated al-Rimi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. Al-Rimi is linked to the September 2008 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a that left 10 Yemeni guards, four civilians, and six terrorists dead, and the December 2009 attempted suicide bombing by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab aboard a U.S.-bound airliner. Following Wuhayshi’s killing in a June 2015 US drone strike, Rimi was promoted to leader of the group. Al-Rimi was named emir of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in June 2015. The following month, he swore allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and called for renewed attacks against the United States.

He was the one who claimed the December 2019 attack in Pensacola.

Rimi’s death represented a blow for al Qaeda, which has lost a number of prominent branch emirs and commanders to US drone strikes in recent years, said Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadism. “It’s weakening al Qaeda, which today doesn’t have the same ability to attack Western interests as before. It will also make the Islamic State group stronger in Yemen because once you kill those prominent leaders, the lower level commanders don’t have the same relationships between each other and it will boost the fight between the groups,” he explained. “It will, in an indirect way, make the Islamic State group stronger in Yemen.”

Rimi’s last public message was released when AQAP posted an audio message claiming the deadly December 2019 Pensacola attack. In his message, Rimi praised the attacker, Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was training in the US. “For several years, our hero moved between several US military bases in America to select and contemplate his best and fattest target,” the SITE monitoring group quoted him as saying.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:24:08 ZULU