Story highlights

An AQAP spokesman says al-Ansi was killed in a U.S. drone strike

A U.S. official confirms the death, but not the drone strike

The senior commander was known for claiming AQAP was behind Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris

CNN  — 

A senior commander in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, according to an online video statement from an AQAP spokesman.

It was not immediately clear when Nasr Ibn Ali al-Ansi was killed.

A U.S. official confirmed that al-Ansi was dead, but would not say whether his death was the result of a drone strike.

The senior commander was well known for giving a lengthy statement after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, claiming AQAP was responsible for the attack.

Twelve cartoonists, editors and other magazine staffers were killed by two gunmen on January 7. The attack was revenge for the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, al-Ansi said then.

He blamed not only Charlie Hebdo, but also France and the United States in his statement.

Al-Ansi urged all would-be jihadists to wage war at home, when possible, as opposed to traveling abroad.

“If he is capable to wage individual jihad in the Western countries that fight Islam – such as America, Britain, France, Canada and others of the countries that represent the head of disbelief in waging war against Islam … if he is capable of that, then that is better and more harmful,” said al-Ansi.

He continued: “But if that is impossible, and he is able to serve his brothers on the front lines, then let him immigrate, for it is better.”

An off-camera interviewer asked why attacks have abated in the United States.

“By the grace of Allah the great (and) the almighty, we have made efforts in external work, and the enemy knows the danger of that,” al-Ansi said. “We are preparing and lurking for the enemies of Allah. We incite the believers to do that.”

Second leader killed

Al-Ansi was killed last month in a drone strike in the Yemeni city of al-Mukalla, the SITE Intelligence group said, citing media reports.

He was born in Ta’iz, Yemen, in October 1975. Al-Ansi pursued jihad in Bosnia in 1995, returned to Yemen, then traveled to Kashmir and later, Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden, according to SITE. The group said al-Ansi was jailed in Yemen for six months before joining AQAP. It’s unclear why.

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank described al-Ansi’s death as a “significant blow against AQAP.”

In addition to being the group’s go-to spokesman, al-Ansi was a senior military strategist who enjoyed a special status because of his history with al Qaeda and bin Laden.

He is the second senior AQAP leader killed recently.

Last month, AQAP announced that Ibrahim al-Rubaish had died in what AQAP’s media wing, Al-Malahem Media, called a “crusader airstrike.” The Al-Malahem Media obituary characterized al-Rubaish as a religious scholar and combat commander.

Al-Rubaish was once held by the U.S. government at its detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, he was among a number of detainees who sued the administration of then-President George W. Bush to challenge the legality of their confinement in Gitmo.

He was eventually released as part of Saudi Arabia’s program for rehabilitating jihadist terrorists, a program that U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, characterized as a failure. In December 2009, Sessions listed al-Rubaish among those on the virtual “Who’s Who of al Qaeda terrorists on the Arabian peninsula … who have either graduated or escaped from the program en route to terrorist acts.”

The United States has been active in Yemen, working closely with governments there to go after AQAP leaders like al-Rubaish. While it was not immediately clear how he died, drone strikes have killed many other members of the terrorist group.

What does AQAP want?

AQAP emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2002, but thanks to the efforts of Saudi authorities was a mostly spent force by 2005, according to analysis from Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism.

It re-emerged, reinvigorated, in Yemen in 2009 after the Saudi outfit merged with a Yemeni al Qaeda counterpart, the analysis said.

In a May 2010 statement, AQAP said its objectives were the “expulsion of Jews and crusaders” from the Arabian Peninsula, the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate, the introduction of Sharia, or Islamic law, and the liberation of Muslim lands, according to Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism.

This suggests the group aims to rid Yemen and Saudi Arabia of non-Muslims and overthrow the nations’ governments, to be replaced with what it considers to be an Islamic state.

To that end, it has targeted foreigners and government forces in Yemen, as well as Saudi leaders. In 2009, Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of interior, survived a bomb attack carried out by an AQAP militant.

Through its Inspire magazine, AQAP also hopes to radicalize Western Muslims and stoke grass-roots jihadist action in Western nations, the Jane’s report says.

The group’s current incarnation “is widely considered to be the al Qaeda regional franchise that represents the most serious international threat,” it concludes.

What is AQAP?

CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq, Barbara Starr, Laura Smith-Spark, Nic Robertson, Greg Botelho, Hakim al-Masmari and Sandrine Amiel contributed to this report.