Al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen under arrest

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES (AFP) – The leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has been under arrest for several months, according to a United Nations (UN) report released on Thursday, in what will be seen as a huge breakthrough in the fight against the global extremist threat.

The document said the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for just under a year, Khalid Batarfi was arrested and his deputy Saad Atef al-Awlaqi died during an “operation in Ghayda City, Al-Mahrah Governorate, in October”.

The report – filed to the Security Council from a UN monitoring team specialising in extremist groups – is the first official confirmation of Batarfi’s arrest following unverified reports.

The wide-ranging UN assessment, summarising global potential extremist threats, did not disclose the militant’s whereabouts or reveal any further details of the October operation.

But the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the online activity of extremist organisations, noted “unconfirmed reports” in October that Batarfi had been arrested by Yemeni security forces and then handed to Saudi Arabia. AQAP revealed it had appointed Batarfi, believed to be in his early 40s, as its leader in February 2020 following the death of his predecessor Qassim al-Rimi in a United States (US) air strike in Yemen.

Batarfi, who was designated a global terrorist by the US State Department in 2018, has appeared in numerous AQAP videos over recent years, according to SITE, and appeared to have been Rimi’s deputy and group spokesman.

Washington considers AQAP to be the worldwide extremist network’s most dangerous branch, and has waged a long-running drone war against the leaders of the group.

AQAP claimed responsibility for the 2019 mass shooting at a US naval base in Florida, in which a Saudi air force officer killed three American sailors.

It also said it was behind the 2009 ‘pants bomb’ plot, a failed attempt by a Nigerian man trained in Yemen to detonate an explosive device on a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached the US city of Detroit on December 25.