Skip to main content

Trump confirms al-Qaeda’s Yemen leader killed

President Donald Trump has confirmed that a US operation killed al-Qaeda’s top leader in Yemen last week.
Shi'ite Houthi rebels drive a patrol truck past an Ansar al-Sharia flag painted on the side of a hill, along a road in Almnash, the main stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Rada, Yemen November 22, 2014.    To match Special Report YEMEN-AQAP/    REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi - GF10000374961

An American operation killed al-Qaeda’s top leader in Yemen last week, President Donald Trump confirmed Thursday night.

Qasim al-Raymi had been targeted in a botched US Navy SEAL raid in 2017, just days after Trump took office, that led to the death of the first American service member in combat under the new administration. Recently, the top lieutenant to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had taken credit for the shooting at a US naval air base in Florida that killed two American service members.

The Pentagon has long watched al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known by the acronym AQAP, that famously hatched a failed plot to blow up an American jetliner with an underwear bomb. A White House statement did not clarify the nature of the operation that killed Raymi, though The New York Times reported last week that the terror leader died in an airstrike.

Current and former US officials said Raymi, who became AQAP’s chief in 2015 and whose activities date back to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, is a very significant development. Trump said in a statement Thursday that the death “further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qaeda movement,” bringing the United States closer to eliminating the group.

Raymi’s actions “have killed countless innocent people including an attack on a hospital,” said Mick Mulroy, the Pentagon’s former top Middle East policy official during the Trump administration and now an ABC analyst. “The United States never forgets and their tenacity in pursuit removed this very dangerous person from the battlefield.”

Trump had previously appeared to confirm Raymi’s death by retweeting reports of the strike over the weekend. The Barack Obama administration also made the controversial decision to take out another leader of the group, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2011. Awlaki, a popular radical ideologue who attracted followers to the group via the internet, was an American citizen and a former imam at a Virginia mosque.

But according to the United Nations’ panel of experts, the group has continued to have an impact by inspiring the jihadist movement “through online platforms, with publications relating to the conflict in Yemen and global jihad.” US and other counterterror efforts have mostly focused on Bayda and Shabwah, in the nation’s southern reaches.

Even as the pace of American airstrikes against AQAP has decreased, the UN assessed last year that its capacity had begun to diminish. The group has clashed with nascent Islamic State cells and has struggled to maintain control of Ansar al Sharia, formed as an al-Qaeda offshoot to capture the growing Yemeni youth movement after pro-democracy protests forced Ali Abdallah Saleh from power.

Experts said the group is likely to keep quiet about Raymi’s death until they find a suitable successor.

“I think [al-Qaeda] wants to avoid infighting so they’ll delay any announcements until they settle the succession process,” said Fernando Carvajal, a former member of the UN panel of experts for Yemen. "[Al-Qaeda] has always been utilized by the Yemeni regime as a force multiplier, not just to extract financial aid from the US and EU."

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial