After US killing of chief, what’s next for Al-Qaeda in Yemen

The combo pix of Qassem Al-Rimi, a suspected chief of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2020

After US killing of chief, what’s next for Al-Qaeda in Yemen

  • The US has waged a long-running drone war against the leaders of AQAP, which it considers Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch

DUBAI: The US killing of the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in war-torn Yemen raises questions about the militant group’s operations and its future.
President Donald Trump said the US “conducted a counterterrorism operation” that eliminated Qassem Al-Rimi, according to a White House statement released on Thursday.
But what does this mean for AQAP and for Yemen, where a five-year war between the government — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels has crippled the country?
Al-Rimi was named AQAP leader after his predecessor, Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, was killed in a US drone strike on Yemen in June 2015.
He was one of the group’s founders in 2009 and its first military commander.
“Al-Rimi’s death is significant,” said Gregory Johnsen, a nonresident fellow at the Sanaa Center think tank.
“However, he was not a good leader for AQAP and since he took over in 2015, the group’s international terrorist wing has atrophied badly.”
Johnsen said the two most likely candidates to succeed Al-Rimi were Khalid Batarfi, reportedly running the group’s external operations, and Saad bin Atef Al-Awlaki, the group’s leader in Yemen’s Shabwa province.
According to Peter Salisbury, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, a successor will most likely be announced soon.
But, he added, it will not be “someone with the name brand recognition Al-Rimi had, and certainly not of the stature of his predecessor, Al-Wuhayshi.”
AQAP, along with other militant groups, has flourished in the chaos of the war between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels.
But analysts say the group’s abilities on the ground have dwindled over the years.
“Al-Rimi’s skills as a military planner will be missed, but AQAP’s ability to operate on the ground in Yemen had already diminished greatly,” said Elisabeth Kendall, a researcher at the University of Oxford.

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AQAP, along with other militant groups, has flourished in the chaos of the war between the Yemeni government and the Iranian-backed Houthi militants.

“In operational terms, its activity peaked in 2017 with over 270 domestic attacks, albeit mostly small scale.”
Johnsen also said that AQAP’s ability on the ground has weakened over the past decade, describing it as “a shadow of its former self.”
AQAP has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad, including on the offices of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
Andreas Krieg of King’s College London said Al-Rimi’s killing has a “PR value” for the US but will not affect AQAP’s ground operations.
The killing of Al-Rimi comes after AQAP claimed responsibility for a Dec. 6 shooting at the US Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, where an officer killed three American sailors.
“It is still unclear how much of a hand AQAP had in directing, as opposed to inspiring, the Pensacola shooting,” Johnsen said.
According to Johnsen, Al-Rimi’s killing “is one more blow” to attacks by the group overseas.
“Prior to the Pensacola attack, the last time AQAP claimed any credit for an overseas attack was in 2015,” he added.
The group’s focus has “shifted onto inspiring rather than directing attacks,” said Kendall.
Salisbury noted that AQAP has not executed a major overseas operation for the past decade.
“Attacks associated with the group have either come from legacy, former operatives or ‘lone wolf’ attacks by people inspired and sometimes in limited contact with the group over the Internet,” he said.
The US has waged a long-running drone war against the leaders of AQAP, which it considers Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch.
According to the White House, Al-Rimi’s killing “further degrades AQAP and the global Al-Qaeda movement.”
“It brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security,” it said.


Algeria says France to return remains of 24 resistance fighters

Updated 02 July 2020

Algeria says France to return remains of 24 resistance fighters

  • Tebboune said some of the remains belonged to “leaders” of the resistance movement who were killed in the 19th century

ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Thursday said France will return the remains of 24 resistance fighters who were killed during its colonization of the North African country.
“Within a few hours Algerian military planes will fly in from France and land at the Houari Boumediene international airport with the remains of 24 (members) of the popular resistance,” Tebboune said during a military ceremony.
Tebboune said some of the remains belonged to “leaders” of the resistance movement who were killed in the 19th century fighting against France which occupied and ruled Algeria for 132 years.
In his speech, Tebboune said these resistance fighters “had been deprived of their natural and human right to be buried for more than 170 years.”
One of the leaders whose remains are to be returned is Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated.
The remains of two other key figures of the resistance — Bou Amar Ben Kedida and Si Mokhtar Ben Kouider Al Titraoui — are also among those expected back in Algeria.
The country won independence from France in 1962 after eight years of bitter war that left some 1.5 million Algerians dead.
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after the war, made his first official visit to Algeria in December 2017, announcing that he came as a “friend” despite France’s historically prickly ties with its former colony.
At the time he told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters.
Algerian and French academics have long campaigned for the return of 37 skulls held at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
In December 2019, Macron said that “colonialism was a grave mistake” and called for turning the page on the past.
During his presidential election campaign Macron had created a storm by calling France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity.”