Story highlights

Nasir al-Wuhayshi is believed to have died last week in Yemen's Hadramout region

He was the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the head of AQAP

"If it's true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters," a U.S. senator says about the reports of al-Wuhayshi's death

CNN  — 

Top al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen’s Hadramout region, according to two Yemeni national security officials.

Tweets from known AQAP operatives also spoke of al-Wuhayshi having been martyred, and of AQAP military commander Qasm al-Rimi (also known as Abu Hureira al-Sanaani) having been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s replacement.

U.S. authorities are looking to confirm al-Wuhayshi’s death, according to one U.S. intelligence official.

Al-Wuhayshi was the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the head of AQAP. In a video that surfaced in April last year, the man who was known as al Qaeda’s crown prince appeared brazenly out in the open, greeting followers.

In a speech to the group, al-Wuhayshi makes it clear that he’s going after the United States, saying: “We must eliminate the cross. … The bearer of the cross is America!”

The video showed what looked like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.

Originally from Yemen, al-Wuhayshi assumed command of AQAP in 2009. He’d escaped a Yemeni prison in 2006, and had previously worked as a personal secretary for Osama bin Laden.

“If it’s true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters,” Sen. Angus King, an independent of Maine, told CNN on Monday.

King said the death would hurt al Qaeda, but stressed the group still poses a threat.

“This is a long, difficult struggle that we’re engaged in, and it’s going to require all kinds of tools,” King said.

Reports of al-Wuhayshi’s death come shortly after U.S. planes carried out a strike inside Libya, purportedly killing a key terror figure in North Africa.

The target was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist fighter, who is blind in one eye, affiliated with al Qaeda in North Africa, a U.S. official told CNN.

Al Qaeda’s second in command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, has been killed in a drone strike in Yemen, dealing a heavy setback to the leadership of the international terrorist group.

CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali, Barbara Starr, Jomana Karadsheh and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.