Al Qaeda Leader in Yemen Might Really Be Dead This Time

Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death -- and there have been many -- this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead.

Shihri, who also went by the kunya Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, was a veteran jihadist who had operated in Afghanistan and Chechnya by the time he was captured by U.S. forces in December 2001. He was held for several years at Guantánamo Bay, but was released after attending a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia. Four months after his release, Shihri appeared in a video announcing the formation of AQAP, with him as deputy emir to former Osama bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi. He is believed to have helped plan AQAP's 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and has been an aggressive fundraiser for the organization, sometimes to the chagrin of bin Laden and al Qaeda's core leadership. Documents recovered from bin Laden's Abbottabad safehouse included a letter criticizing Shihri's efforts and requesting that AQAP start clearing its press releases with other al Qaeda leaders.

Shihri died in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen's northern Saada province, according to AQAP's video announcement. AQAP has a known presence in the area and has clashed with the Houthi movement, which controls much of the province. When Shihri was last reported dead, in January, the Yemeni government also attributed the cause of death to an airstrike in Saada.

AQAP's message was delivered by Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, AQAP's chief theologian -- and a Saudi and Gitmo veteran like Shihri -- who was rumored to be in line to succeed Shihri as AQAP's number two when Shihri was last reported killed in January. But Rubaysh's announcement on Wednesday did not include any mention of who might succeed the group's deputy.

Image via Jihadology


Was Egypt a 'Democratic Coup'?

Following Mohamed Morsy's overthrow in Egypt, I wrote about Ozan Varol's argument that under certain rare circumstances, coups can be described as "democratic" if they are staged against authoritarian regimes with the widespread support of the people. The three main examples cited in the paper are the 1960 Turkish Coup, 1974 Portuguese Coup, and the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak In a post on the Opinio Juris blog yesterday day, Varol says recent events in Egypt don't fit the bill:

The Egyptian military deposed a president who was elected just a year ago via elections characterized by many as free and fair.  To be sure, the military responded to the demands of a massive protest movement against an immensely unpopular and defiant president. There is much to criticize about President Morsi’s majoritarian governance style and the Constitution drafted under the Muslim Brotherhood’s tutelage.  But the military’s actions were premature.  Speculations aside, there was no indication at the time of the coup that Morsi would refuse to relinquish power upon an electoral loss or that any elections under his government would be rigged, as they were under Mubarak.  Had the military not forcibly removed Morsi, opposition groups may have been able to capitalize on Morsi’s unpopularity to oust him at the ballot box.  The military’s quick-fix short-circuited the established democratic procedures.

For more coup follow-up, see Jay Ulfelder on how they slow economic growth.