Al-Qaeda said Thursday that Harith al-Nadhari, a senior figure who threatened more attacks on France after last month’s Charlie Hebdo killings, had died in a US drone strike in Yemen, AFP reports.
Nadhari and three other militants were killed in a January 31 “crusader American drone strike against their car” in the southern Shabwa province, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said on Twitter.
AQAP named the others as Said Bafaraj, Abdelsamie al-Haddaa and Azzam al-Hadrami. Tribal sources had said at the time that four suspected militants were left charred in their car after a drone strike.
Nadhari was considered to be one of AQAP’s senior “religious scholars” tasked with promoting “sharia”, Islamic law by al-Qaeda standards.
He had urged more attacks on France such as those on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris that killed 17 people.
“It is better for you to stop your aggression against the Muslims, so perhaps you will live safely,” Nadhari was quoted saying in a January 10 video after the attacks.
Four days later, AQAP ideologue Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi claimed the Charlie Hebdo assault on behalf of the group.
US President Barack Obama vowed on January 25 Washington would continue “to go after high value targets inside Yemen”.
At least 11 suspected Al-Qaeda militants have been killed in drone strikes in central and southern Yemen since then.
Western governments say it is unclear if AQAP directly orchestrated the Charlie Hebdo attack, although they do believe one or both of the perpetrators, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, spent time with terrorists in Yemen.
AQAP was formed in 2009 after a merger between militants in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
According to the “New America Foundation”, the United States has carried out more than 110 strikes in Yemen since 2009, mostly using drones.
In September 2011, a drone strike killed US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, the AQAP leader accused of instigating a string of attacks against the United States.
That attack followed “statements by US officials on further intelligence cooperation with the Huthis on fighting terrorism,” AQAP said Thursday, referring to the powerful Shiite militia that seized Yemen’s capital in September and has clashed with Al-Qaeda regularly since then.
“Huthis have become faithful US partners in preserving its interests and implementing its plans in the Arabian Peninsula,” claimed AQAP, vowing to continue fighting “Americans, crusaders and Huthis”.
The popular volunteer forces called Ansarallah or Huthis who seized the presidential palace and key government buildings on January 20, prompting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and his premier to resign.
Since they overran the capital and towns farther south, they have met resistance from Al-Qaeda.
The Pentagon has said US officials were holding discussions with representatives of the Huthis but were not sharing intelligence on Al-Qaeda, AFP reports.
The Wall Street Journal reported this month that US officials were in touch with Huthi fighters largely through intermediaries.
AQAP took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of the south and east.
The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas despite recruiting militia allies among local tribes.
Also on Thursday, four policemen were killed by gunmen in the southern city of Aden, with security sources blaming separatists for the attack in which they said the assailants also fired shells.