WASHINGTON - Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Yemeni officials have reported that the leader of Al-Qaeda's Yemen affiliate and recently the second-ranking official of the global terror network, Nasser Al-Wuhayshi, has been killed in an American drone strike.
"We in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula mourn to our Muslim nation, " Khaled Batarfi, a senior member of the group, said in a website statement. Others worried that the group faced grave internal dangers, as Al-Qaeda leaders were killed, one by one.
"Al-Qaeda, to where?" one supporter wrote on Twitter.
Al-Wuhayshi, 38, had led Al-Qaeda operations in Yemen since 2002 and built Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula into what counterterrorism officials considered the most dangerous group targeting the US homeland, though all its attacks have failed.
The group was responsible for dispatching two bombers with underwear explosives to blow up airliners over US soil as well as bombs in printer ink cartridges aboard two cargo planes.
Monday's report of Al-Wuhayshi's death was the second time in as many days that the death of a militant leader targeted in a US strike was claimed. Over the weekend, US F-15s carried out an air strike in Libya on Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a leading Algerian terrorist. Although US officials would consider the deaths of the two men a victory, the strikes took place against a larger landscape of advancing anti-American extremists and dissolving government authority.
In Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Sunni extremist group, has been strengthened by the support of Sunni tribesmen in the face of the takeover of much of the country by a Shi'ite militia group, the Houthis. Al-Qaeda militants now control more territory than at any time since 2012.
In Libya, factional fighting since the ouster and death in 2011 of Muammar Gaddafi has permitted multiple militant groups to seize territory and recruit supporters, including affiliates of both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Militants on Twitter announced that Al-Wuhayshi had been replaced by the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's military commander Qassim al-Raymi, whose death was widely and inaccurately reported in a 2010 strike.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS