Nasir al-Wahishi, the leader of al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen and the group’s second-in-command overall, died in a U.S. drone attack, according to a video statement that claims to be from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. has not confirmed the account.
Al-Wahishi was part of al-Qaida’s “old guard,” NPR’s Alice Fordham reports for Morning Edition. Al-Wahishi had fought in Afghanistan; he had also been Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary.
“But his main importance in the eyes of the West was as a leader of a group that was particularly focused on what Osama bin Laden called ‘the far enemy’ – on the United States,” Alice says. “He was the leader of a group that masterminded several attempted terror plots designed to hit the West. You’ll remember the young man who attempted a plane bombing in 2009, with explosives in his underwear.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula also claimed responsibility for January’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.
In the statement announcing al-Wahishi’s death, a senior official from AQAP also said that the leader’s deputy would step up to take his place.