How many times can al Qaeda's No. 2 in Yemen cheat death? If Thursday's reports of the passing of AQAP's deputy emir Saeed al-Shihri prove founded, the number stands at three.
Yemen announced on Thursday that al-Shihri had died from injuries sustained during a U.S. drone attack in October of last year. The al Qaeda leader reportedly fell into a coma and later succumbed to his wounds. The exact date of his death was unclear, the Associated Press reports.
AP has more on al-Shihri:
Al Shihri went through Saudi Arabia's famous "rehabilitation" institutes after he returned to his home country, but then he fled to Yemen and became deputy to Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of an al Qaeda group.
While al-Shihri's death would be an important blow to al Qaeda in Yemen, this is not the first time that the deputy emir has been presumed dead.
As the Atlantic Wire points out, Yemeni authorities previously claimed al-Shihri had died in an airstrike in December 2009. Officials made the same claim in September 2011, arguing that the Saudi militant had been killed in a drone attack in Hadramawt. A DNA test later showed that the al-Qaeda leader was not among those killed, the AP explains, and al Shihri subsequently denied his own death in an audio message.
Is this the final announcement of al-Shihri's dead? Adam Clark Estes argues in the Atlantic Wire that this is far from the most pertinent question the al-Shihri case leaves us.
So how on Earth could we know if we've managed to finally take out al Qaeda's second in command? The family confirmation helps this time around, but of course it's possible that some will remain unconvinced, especially since this is not the first but the third time we've allegedly killed this guy. We don't necessarily need to kill him again. Chances are we'd actually be killing a goat farmer or something in the somewhat likely case that the drone strike earlier this week did the job. What makes more sense is come up with a better system of accountability so that we actually know what actually happens when the missiles from our drones hit the ground. Writing these sorts of rules and guidelines, however, does not seem to be a big priority for the administration.
The reports of al-Shihri's death by a U.S. drone strike comes as the United Nations announced it would launch a probe into the legality of America's use of drones and targeted assassinations.
"The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law," U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson said in a statement released on Thursday.