Nasir al-Wahishi: Al Qaeda Heir to Bin Laden Killed in Airstrike, White House Says

Nasir Al-Wahishi highest figure struck down since al Qaeda founder.

ByABC News
June 16, 2015, 6:22 AM

— -- The White House today confirmed that the leader of al Qaeda’s most deadly affiliate and the man who one day may have led all of al Qaeda was killed recently.

“The Intelligence Community has concluded that Nasir al-Wahishi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] and deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been killed in Yemen,” says a statement from the White House National Security Council, using an alternate spelling for al Qaeda. “Wahishi’s death strikes a major blow to AQAP, al-Qa’ida’s most dangerous affiliate, and to al-Qa’ida more broadly.”

The White House did not say how al-Wahishi died, but the statement came just hours after AQAP uploaded its own statement online saying its leader was felled by a U.S. drone strike. A U.S. official later clarified it was a CIA drone strike.

"Our Muslim nation, a hero of your heroes and a master of your masters left to God, steadfast," an AQAP member says in the nearly 10-minute-long video.

Al-Wahishi was wanted by the U.S. government for allegedly “approving targets, recruiting new [al Qaeda] members, allocating resources to training and attack planning, and tasking others to carry out attacks,” according to the U.S. State Department, which offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Analysts previously said Al-Wahishi, once Osama bin Laden's personal secretary, was widely seen as a likely choice to lead overall al Qaeda after al-Zawahiri.

U.S. officials have said for years that AQAP represents the greatest threat to the American homeland from an al Qaeda affiliate. The group is believed to count among its members Ibrahim al-Asiri, a diabolical bomb-maker responsible for a series of elaborate, if failed attempts to attack the U.S. by hiding explosives in planes bound for the homeland.

American airstrikes have taken out targets in Yemen in the past – most notably American citizen-turned-al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011.

“If confirmed, the death of AQAP’s leader is a major blow to Islamist terrorists who are plotting daily to attack America,” Rep. Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Monday, before the NSC statement. “But as we know from the case of Osama bin Laden, killing al Qaeda commanders is not enough. We can chase these fanatics to the gates of hell, but to win, we must destroy their terrorist sanctuaries and defeat their insidious ideology.”

The rumors of al-Wahishi’s demise came as the U.S. military confirmed that another terror leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was targeted in a military strike in Libya over the weekend.

Belmokhtar was once a senior commander of another al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), before he had a falling out with the group in 2013 and split off to form his own organization.

The U.S. is still assessing whether the strike targeting Belmokhtar was successful. He has also been reported dead several times before.