A United States drone strike killed a senior al Qaeda official in Yemen last month, according to a video statement released by the group’s branch in Yemen on Thursday.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) member Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, his son and several other fighters were reportedly killed when a drone hit their convoy in the Yemeni Hadramawt governatorate. If the report is accurate, it would suggest that the U.S. drone campaign against al Qaeda may be continuing in Yemen despite the chaos currently engulfing the country.
Ansi was a prominent member of AQAP and had appeared in several of the group's video releases, including al Qaeda's first ever "press conference," where he answered questions submitted only by reporters. He was also the man who claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda for the attack on Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January. Two gunmen who had training with the terror group stormed the publication’s office, killing 12 people.
The U.S. did not confirm or deny the alleged drone strike nor did it give any details on Ansi.
“I cannot give you a specific answer on a particular strike,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said when asked by reporters on Thursday in Washington. “I will say that on the general question of AQAP, we will continue to apply pressure.”
AQAP is considered the biggest and most immediate threat to the U.S. in terms of capability to attack on American soil, and the U.S. has targeted the group with drone strikes for years. The group has specialized in bombmaking. In 2009, it claimed responsibility for making the explosive used by the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. A year later, the militant group attempted to carry out an attack by sending a printer-cartridge bomb to the U.S. via mail.
Last month AQAP released a similar video claiming that one of its members, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. In January, al Qaeda claimed that airstrikes killed at least three of its members in Yemen. The claim came after U.S.-backed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was forced to resign in favor of the Shiite Houthi rebel group, and was the first sign that the U.S. drone campaign would continue with or without Hadi's involvement.