Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader in Arabia was Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, also named Saeed al-Shahri
Yemen confirms he was killed in a November counter-terrorism operation
A jihadist had tweeted the death earlier this week, SITE Intelligence Group says
Al-Azdi was buried by militants at an undisclosed place in Yemen, officials say
The second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed in a recent counter-terrorism operation, the Yemeni government confirmed Thursday.
Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, also known as Saeed al-Shahri, died after being wounded in the governorate of Saadah on November 28, said the Supreme National Security Committee of Yemen. He was also one of the most wanted men in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Azdi was buried by militants linked to al Qaeda at an undisclosed location inside Yemen, the government said in a statement.
The confirmation comes a day after a prominent jihadist announced that al-Azdi died “after a long journey in fighting the Zio-Crusader campaign.”
That jihadist was Abdulla bin Muhammad, who used his Twitter account to report the purported death. The tweet was reported by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors global terrorism.
Al-Azdi was co-founder and deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and had “survived multiple operations in the past,” the government said.
Al-Azdi “was a coconspirator in a number of AQAP foreign operations and was possibly involved in the kidnappings and killings of foreigners in Yemen,” the government said. “Dozens of brave Yemeni officers and innocent civilians have lost their lives in this ongoing war. Yemen remains committed to fighting terrorism and eradicating extremism.”
This week, the Arabic news network Al-Arabiya also reported al-Azdi’s death, citing his relatives. But three senior Yemeni defense ministry officials told CNN the country then had no evidence proving his death.
Al-Azdi had been falsely reported dead in the past, the latest incident being in September when Yemen claimed he was killed in an air raid. An audio message released the next month supposedly featured al-Azdi saying he was still alive.
Al-Azdi spent six years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay before being released in 2007. A Saudi national, he escaped Saudi Arabia to Yemen in 2008.
Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced in October that Yemen would step up its military operations with the United States against al Qaeda operatives. U.S. drone activity increased in 2012 targeting senior leaders of AQAP.
At the same time, al Qaeda carried out a number of attacks on military and security commanders, personnel, patrols and installations, killing more than 60 people, according to Yemen’s Interior Ministry.
CNN’s Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.