ATbar The Leadership crisis of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

The Leadership crisis of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

22/02/2021 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

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The leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been under arrest for several months, according to a United Nations report. The document said Khalid bin Umar Batarfi, also known as Abu Miqdad al-Kindi, the leader of AQAP for just under a year, was arrested and his deputy, Saad Atef al-Awlaqi, died during an operation in Ghayda City, Al-Mahrah Governorate, in October 2020.[1] So far, the group has not announced who replaced Batarfi as the leader of AQAP.

On February 23, 2020, AQAP announced that it had selected Batarfi as the group’s new leader. Batarfi was   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 January 2020.[2]

The report -- filed to the Security Council from a UN monitoring team specializing in extremist groups - is the first official confirmation of Batarfi’s arrest following unverified reports:

  • On October 2, 2020, a pro-ISIS Telegram channel claimed that Batarfi turned himself into Yemeni forces following a Saudi-led raid in al-Mahrah. Allegedly, two key AQAP commanders were also killed in the raid.[3]
  • The SITE Intelligence Group noted “unconfirmed reports” in October 2020 that Batarfi had been arrested by Yemeni security forces and then handed to Saudi Arabia.[4]

Given Batarfi was the "emir" of AQAP, there has arguably not been a more senior al Qaeda leader captured alive since Bin Laden founded the group more than 30 years ago.[5]

The loss of Batarfi is the latest in a string of setbacks for AQAP. It was reported that the leader of the group in Abyan, Al-Khadr al-Walidi, was killed in November 2020, and that the group was routed in Bayda’, with remnant fighters from that governorate dispersing towards Shabwah, Ma’rib and Abyan. [6]

AQAP is not only involved in longstanding conflict with ISIS, but suffers from internal divisions and conflicts which ended up revealing two main camps within the organization. The first camp was led by Batarfi, who had the support of prominent and senior leaders such as, Saad Atef al-Awlaqi, Judge Hamad al-Tamimi and Ammar al-San'ani, while the second camp includes Abu Omar Al-Nahdi and Daoud Al-Sayari. The internal conflict in AQAP strengthens the influence and rise of ISIS that so far has not announced the death of any of its leaders.


[1] Al-Qaeda's leader in Yemen under arrest: UN report, Al Arabiya, February 5, 2021.

[2] Gregory D. Johnsen, Khalid Batarfi and the Future of AQAP, Lawfare Blog, March 22, 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/khalid-batarfi-and-future-aqap .

[3] https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/khalid-batarfi

[4] Al-Qaeda's leader in Yemen under arrest: UN report.

[5] Paul Cruickshank, Al Qaeda's leader in Yemen under arrest, UN report reveals, CNN, February 4, 2021.

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