Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) second-in-command denied his own death at the hands of the Yemeni army in an audio message posted on jihadist forums, SITE Intelligence reported on Monday.
The monitoring service said Saeed al-Shehri accused the army of fabricating his death to “cover up the killing of civilians by American aircraft” in an audio message produced by the group’s media arm and posted online on October 20.
“The Yemeni government didn’t stop claiming responsibility for the killing of innocent Muslims in Al-Bayda (in south Yemen) on behalf of America, and when it saw that the people weren’t tricked by this lie, they brought in another lie in order to hide the issue, which is the killing of Saeed al-Shehri,” he said.
On September 10, the Yemeni defence ministry announced troops had killed Shehri in a raid in the eastern Yemeni province of Hadramawt.
At the time, the ministry said “six other terrorist elements accompanying (Shehri) were also killed,” adding that his death dealt a “painful blow to what’s left of” Yemen-based AQAP, which Washington considers to be the global jihadist group Al-Qaeda’s deadliest and most active franchise.
A tribal source told AFP after the raid that a ground operation had taken place in Hadramawt, but would not confirm Shehri’s death.
Shehri’s audio comments refer to repeated US drone attacks in Yemen that target Al-Qaeda suspects in the country’s mostly lawless south and east.
Shehri escaped death in September last year when US drones carried out several air strikes on the village of Al-Mahfad in the southern Abyan province, a former Al-Qaeda stronghold.
The militant leader was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and was flown to Saudi Arabia where he was put through a rehabilitation programme.
But after completing the programme, Shehri disappeared and later resurfaced as AQAP’s second-in-charge.
Al-Qaeda never confirmed Shehri’s death and last month, Saudi Arabia announced it too could not confirm that he had died during the Yemeni army operation.