Other U.S. officials have also said they were not able to confirm that Asiri was killed in the airstrike. Asiri’s death would have dealt a serious blow to the operational capabilities of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, perhaps even a greater loss for the affiliate than the death of Awlaqi, the architect of the group’s global jihadist ambitions.
In a news conference earlier Saturday, Janadi also said that Awlaqi’s father would pick up his son’s remains in the northern province of Jawf, where the airstrike unfolded.
“It is not a corpse. He is in pieces,” Janadi said. “The Yemeni government will not interfere with any type of final rites.”
The strike that U.S. and Yemeni authorities confirmed killed Awlaqi also killed a second U.S. citizen — Samir Khan, the co-editor of an al-Qaeda magazine — and two other unidentified al-Qaeda operatives, the Yemeni government said Friday. Tribal leaders in the area said at least seven people were killed in all.
Awlaqi’s death comes five months after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda network, in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The Obama administration in recent months has escalated the use of drones to target al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen and Somalia.
President Obama called Awlaqi’s death “a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate” and described him as “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” or AQAP. “In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans,” Obama said.
Awlaqi’s death could have far-reaching implications for Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East and one that has been gripped for eight months by a standoff between the government and demonstrators determined to bring an end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh, who returned to Yemen last week after a 31
2-month absence for medical treatment following an assassination attempt, has long portrayed himself as a U.S. ally who is essential to counterterrorism efforts. Critics say that his refusal to resign is the main source of instability in the country and that his government has allowed al-Qaeda to thrive on Yemeni soil.
On Friday, Yemeni officials were pointing to Awlaqi’s death as evidence of Saleh’s effectiveness as a U.S. partner, while opposition leaders said they feared that it would ease international pressure on the president to step aside.