The White House says the founder of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed during a counter-terrorism operation in Yemen on Thursday.
A statement from U.S. President Donald Trump said Qassim al-Rimi was targeted and “successfully eliminated.”
According to the statement, al-Rimi was the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Rimi joined al-Qaeda in the 1990s, working in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden.
In his statement, Trump said under al-Rimi, AQAP committed “unconscionable violence” against civilians in Yemen and “sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks” against the U.S.
“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 statement read. “The United States, our interests, and our allies are safer as a result of his death.”
Prior to his death, al-Rimi claimed in an 18-minute video that his group was responsible for the Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
He called the shooter, Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani, a “courageous knight” and a “hero.” The shooter opened fire inside a classroom at the base, killing three people and wounding two sheriff’s deputies before one of the deputies killed him. Eight others were also hurt.
The shooting focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets. In January, the U.S. sent home 21 Saudi military students, saying the trainees had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms.
Trump’s announcement confirmed earlier indications that al-Rimi had been killed. In late January, a suspected U.S. drone strike destroyed a building housing al-Qaeda militants in eastern Yemen. Also, on Feb. 1, Trump retweeted several other tweets and media reports that seemed to offer confirmation that the strike had killed al-Rimi.
“It certainly adds to the degradation of al-Qaeda,” Seth Jones, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Transnational Threats Project, said of the senior official’s death.
Jones called al-Rimi’s killing a “serious blow” to the organization, but not to expect retribution anytime soon.