SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The leader of Yemen’s branch of al-Qaida is dead, the militant group announced late Sunday, without giving details.

Khalid al-Batarfi had a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S. government over leading the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, long considered the most-dangerous branch of the extremist group still operating after the killing of founder Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaida released a video showing al-Batarfi wrapped in a funeral shroud of the al-Qaida black-and-white flag. It offered no details on the cause of his death and there was no clear sign of trauma visible on his face. Al-Batarfi is believed to be in his early 40s.

“Allah took his soul while he patiently sought his reward and stood firm, immigrated, garrisoned, and waged jihad for His sake,” the militants said in the video, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

The group made the announcement on the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy fasting month that Yemen will begin Monday.

In the announcement, the group said Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki would take over as its leader. The U.S. has a $6 million bounty on him, saying al-Awlaki “has publicly called for attacks against the United States and its allies.”

The Yemen branch of al-Qaida has seen by Washington as the terror network’s most dangerous branch ever since its attempt in 2009 to bomb a commercial airliner over the United States. It claimed responsibility for the 2015 deadly attack in Paris on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Al-Batarfi took over as the head of the branch, known by the acronym AQAP, in February 2020. He succeeded leader Qassim al-Rimi, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike ordered by then-President Donald Trump. Al-Rimi had claimed responsibility for the 2019 attack at the U.S. Naval Air Station Pensacola in which a Saudi aviation trainee killed three American sailors.

Al-Batarfi, born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 and fought alongside the Taliban during the U.S.-led invasion. He joined AQAP in 2010 and led forces in taking over Yemen’s Abyan province, according to the U.S.

In 2015, he was freed after an AQAP raid that saw the militants capture Mukalla, the capital of Yemen’s largest province, Hadramawt, amid the chaos that followed Yemen’s Houthi rebels seizing the capital, Sanaa, and as a Saudi-led coalition started a war against the Houthis. A photo at the time showed al-Awlaki with a Kalashnikov rifle, posing inside a government palace there.

AQAP was later pushed out of Mukalla, but has continued attacks and been the target of a U.S. drone strike campaign since the administration of then-President George W. Bush.

In 2020, there had been claims that al-Bartafi had been detained, which later were denied. In 2021, he referred to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as “only the tip of the iceberg of what will come to them, God willing.”


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Brought to you by