(NEW YORK) — The second-in-command of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate was reportedly killed in an airstrike in Yemen in December, according to a news report by Arabic television network Al Arabiya, the third time the former Guantanamo detainee has been reported dead since 2010.
According to the report, Said al-Shihri died last month after sustaining severe injuries from a joint U.S.-Yemeni airstrike that targeted a convoy in which he was riding. The al Arabiya account, based on information from “family sources,” said that the airstrike left al-Shihri in a coma. He allegedly died soon after and was buried in Yemen.
On Tuesday afternoon, hours after the initial report, a Yemeni government denied having any information regarding the death of al-Shihri, according to Arabic news site al-Bawaba.
No photos of a body have yet surfaced and no mention of his death has appeared on jihadi forums. This is the third time al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been reported killed since 2009. In 2010, the Yemeni claimed it had captured him. In September 2012, Yemeni news sites reported he was killed in an American drone strike.
Al-Shihri, a “veteran jihadist,” traveled to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to fight coalition troops, only to be captured weeks later, according to West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He was sent to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he stayed for six years before being released to Saudi Arabia. There, he entered a so-called “jihadi rehab” program that attempted to turn terrorists into art students by getting them to get “negative energy out on paper,” as the program’s director told ABC News in 2009.
But just months after he supposedly entered the fingerpainting camp, al-Shihri reappeared in Yemen where he was suspected to have been behind a deadly bombing at the U.S. embassy there.
At the time, critics of the “jihadi rehab” program used al-Shihri as evidence that extremists would just go through the motions in order to be freed.
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Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN