Top al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi has died in a drone strike.
Al-Wuhayshi was the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the head of AQAP.
Two Yemeni national security officials told CNN that al-Wuhayshi was killed Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen’s Hadramout region. A few hours later, the militant group itself confirmed the death.
In a video message released Tuesday, AQAP said al-Wuhayshi was killed along with two aides. Military chief Qasm al-Rimi (also known as Abu Hureira al-Sanaani) will take over as successor, the group said.
U.S. authorities are looking to confirm al-Wuhayshi’s death, according to one U.S. intelligence official.
In a video that surfaced in April last year, the man who was known as al Qaeda’s crown prince appeared brazenly out in the open, greeting followers.
In a speech to the group, al-Wuhayshi makes it clear that he’s going after the United States, saying: “We must eliminate the cross. … The bearer of the cross is America!”
The video showed what looked like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
Originally from Yemen, al-Wuhayshi assumed command of AQAP in 2009. He’d escaped a Yemeni prison in 2006, and had previously worked as a personal secretary for Osama bin Laden.
“If it’s true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters,” Sen. Angus King, an independent of Maine, told CNN on Monday.
King said the death would hurt al Qaeda, but stressed the group still poses a threat.
“This is a long, difficult struggle that we’re engaged in, and it’s going to require all kinds of tools,” King said.
Reports of al-Wuhayshi’s death come shortly after U.S. planes carried out a strike inside Libya, purportedly killing a key terror figure in North Africa.
The target was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist fighter, who is blind in one eye, affiliated with al Qaeda in North Africa, a U.S. official told CNN.
The Libyan government said Belmokhtar was killed in the weekend strike, something that U.S. officials have not confirmed.