US Looking Into Reports of Top Al Qaeda Leader’s Death
Nasir al-Wahashi leads AQAP, potential heir to all al Qaeda.
-- In a potential counter-terror one-two punch, a U.S. intelligence official said today the U.S. is “looking into claims” that the leader of a powerful al Qaeda affiliate, and a potential future leader of overall al Qaeda, was killed in an airstrike – a probe U.S. intelligence will be conducting as it also tries to determine if another terror leader was killed in an American airstrike in Libya.
Rumors circulated today among jihadists online that Nasir al-Wahishi, head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed in recent days in an American strike in Yemen.
A spokesperson for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, Mohammed Albasha, tweeted earlier today that his government had “no confirmation” on al-Wahishi’s fate. The American intelligence official who spoke to ABC News declined to comment further than to say the U.S. is investigating.
Al-Wahishi, like other high-profile terror figures, has been reported dead before, only to emerge to disprove the rumors.
The wiry al-Wahishi is 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 offers a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
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,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “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 potential 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.