Khalid al-Batarfi poses in the governor’s palace in Mukalla after being freed in an al-Qaeda jailbreak in 2015. (AQAP photo)

AQAP Names New Leader with Lengthy Media Resumé

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed the death of leader Qasim al-Raymi and named his successor in a new audio recording.

Al-Raymi, who had led AQAP since 2015, was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen at the end of January.

In addition to producing terror propaganda and tutorials aimed at a Western audience, AQAP claimed “full responsibility” for the Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, in which Saudi military member Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani killed three.

The new leader, Khalid al-Batarfi, has deep roots in the AQAP media operation, appearing in several video series including a 2015 tutorial on how to think like al-Qaeda. He’s also praised lone attacks and encouraged more attacks in the West.

Batarfi, a Saudi believed to be around 40 years old, trained in Afghanistan in 1999 and fought with the Taliban against U.S. forces in 2001. He joined AQAP in 2010 and led fighters in Yemen’s Abyan Governorate. He was captured in 2011 but freed in an al-Qaeda prison break four years later, subsequently taking selfies for social media in the provincial governor palace in Al Mukalla.

His media appearances included a December 2016 Taliban video in which he praised the longstanding relationship between the terror groups and predicted Taliban victory over the U.S. “Groups of Afghan Mujahideen have emerged from the land of Afghans that will destroy the biggest idol and head of kufr of our time, America,” Batarfi said.

The State Department designated Batarfi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist after he released a video threatening the U.S. in January 2018, after the administration announced it would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There’s a $5 million reward on Batarfi’s head.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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