On Sunday, Feb. 23, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced that it had selected Khalid bin Umar Batarfi as the group’s new leader. Batarfi—who is also known as Abu Miqdad al-Kindi, a nod to his family’s Hadhrami roots—is AQAP’s third leader since the group was formed in January 2009. AQAP’s first two leaders, Nasir al-Wuhayshi and Qasim al-Raymi, were both killed in U.S. drone strikes: Wuhayshi in June 2015 and Raymi in Jan. 2020.
Batarfi’s selection checks two important boxes for AQAP. First, he is from the Arabian Peninsula, as was the case with both of the group’s former leaders. Wuhayshi and Raymi were each born in Yemen; Batarfi is from a Yemeni family but was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1979. (The U.S. Department of Treasury’s specially designated nationals listing also gives 1978 and 1980 as possible dates of birth.) Second, Batarfi has extensive international jihadi credentials. He trained and fought in Afghanistan prior to September 2001, assisted fighters traveling to Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003, and helped lead AQAP’s push to seize territory in southern Yemen in 2010 and 2011.