U.S. forces have killed Qasim al-Rimi, the founder of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his deputy, the White House announced in a statement late Thursday.
President Donald Trump reportedly ordered the operation, though details about the time and means by which the strike occurred were not immediately available.
Rimi joined Al-Qaeda in the 1990s and worked in Afghanistan under the leadership of Osama bin-Laden. Rimi went on to found the AQAP, which based its operations out of Yemen. By the time of his death, Rimi continued to serve as the AQAP’s leader and also served as a deputy to Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s main leader.
“Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces,” the White House statement read. “His death further degrades AQAP and the global Al-Qaeda movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security. The United States, our interests, and our allies are safer as a result of his death.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. launched a drone strike against Rimi last week, though it remains unclear if that prior drone strike is what brought about Rimi’s end, or if the White House statement refers to a different operation altogether.
After rumors of Rimi’s death began to circulate in late January, AQAP released an audio recording of his voice, BBC reported. In the audio, Rimi claimed AQAP was behind a deadly December shooting attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.
“We congratulate our Muslim nation and embrace the operation of the martyr hero, the daring knight Muhammad bin Saeed al-Shamrani,” Rimi reportedly said in the translated AQAP recording.
On Jan. 13, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr did confirm reports that the Pensacola base shooting was an act of Islamist terrorism. Barr said the gunman, identified as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was “motivated by jihadist ideology.”
Barrs comments followed more than a month of investigation to determine Alshamrani’s suspected terror motives, though Barr did not tie Alshamrani’s actions to any specific terror group affiliation, such as AQAP.
Rimi was the main target of one of the first military raids Trump ordered after he took office in 2017. U.S. forces did successfully kill 14 other Al-Qaeda operatives and capture a trove of intelligence, but the mission also resulted in the death of one U.S. Navy SEAL, the injury of four more SEALs and the destruction of a V-22 Osprey.