A US drone strike reportedly targeted an alleged AQAP site in Al Hazma village, in the Wadi Obeida area of Marib governorate, at dawn on January 27th 2020. Multiple sources suggested that at least one alleged AQAP militant had died in the strike, and one source, Mint Press News, reported that civilians near the house had been killed. Some sources later indicated that AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi died in this strike, one of three apparent January US actions in which he was reportedly killed.
At least one missile reportedly targeted a house where an al-Qaeda leader was staying, having rented the house in the previous week. According to Mint Press, the strike, which reportedly involved multiple munitions releases, killed “some innocent civilians” near the house, though no further details were given. Given this, Airwars has assessed that at least two civilians were reportedly killed in the strike, though this allegation has been assessed as weak based on limited reporting.
Ali Hammoud, a farmer who said that one of his relatives was killed in the strike, told Mint Press that “U.S. drones do not differentiate between civilians and al-Qaeda-linked fighters… In the end, you will be killed by plane, whether you are a civilian, or from al-Qaeda. Joining al-Qaeda is what is on my mind now.”
Tribal sources told the Al-Khabar press agency that “communications devices and computers” were found in the building, while other local language media outlets, such as Al-Ain, reported that the house contained a store of missiles and mine-making tools. Mint Press suggested that explosives in the building continued to detonate in the aftermath of the initial explosion, and that AQAP militants cordoned off the area soon afterwards. According to Yem News, a local resident said that AQAP had been operating in the area “openly” over the prior months. A second reported airstrike on January 27th (USYEMTr220) was said to have targeted AQAP militants in the same area.
Several sources, including @alghadye, suggested that one AQAP militant, a leadership figure, had been killed. Mint Press and others named the dead militant as “Qasilah”, who had reportedly rented the house. According to Al-Khabar press, “Qasilah” had previously been “expelled by the people of the area”.
Similarly, Al-Ain reported that the renter of the house presented himself as “displaced” from central Yemen. Local sources told Al-Masdar Online that this person was named Abdullah Al-Adani, and that a man took his body away in the hours after the strike. These sources indicated that Al-Adani was “known to be connected to AQAP”. A single social media source (@geHYX4hFs5Df0mP) reported that “a number” of militants had died in the strike.
Some, including Twitter user @AnisAbdulla1, Mint Press, and Aden Gad, indicated that AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi, also known as Abu-Huraira al-San’ani, may also have been killed in this event, though two local sources denied to Mint Press that this was the case. Given this, Airwars has assessed that at least one alleged militant was killed in the attack, with a maximum of two, to account for reports of Al-Raymi’s death.
Throughout late January and early February 2020, numerous local-language and English-language sources reported that al-Raymi had been killed by a US strike at the end of January. These reports variously indicated that he was killed by one of two alleged strikes in Wadi Obeida, Marib, on January 25th (USYEMTr218) or January 27th; or by an alleged strike in Bayda on January 29th (USYEMTr221).
On February 2nd, Marib governor Sultan al-Arada told Asharq Al-Awsat that two strikes had taken place in Marib in the prior 10-day period, and that security authorities had been unable to identify those killed in either strike. OSINT analyst @RebeccaRambar initially reported that Al-Raymi was killed on the 27th, but later indicated that he was in fact killed in Yakla, Bayda governorate, on January 29th.
Due to the congruence of alleged strike circumstances, several reports of a strike in Marib could not be definitively tied to a particular incident. Numerous local-language news outlets, including Akhbar Al-Aan, reported only that Al-Raymi was killed in a strike against a house in Wadi Obeida, conceivably referring to either of the Marib strikes mentioned above. Similarly, the New York Times reported that two militants were killed by an undated strike in Wadi Obeida, while Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed suggested that “at least four” were killed by a strike in the same area.
One Twitter source, @goldensla, suggested on January 27th that “one of the most wanted” AQAP members in Ataq, Shabwa governorate, had rented a house in Wadi Obeida a week previously. A second tweet from the same source, on January 29th, suggested that Qasim al-Raymi had been reportedly killed in Marib after being seen in Ataq, but did not specify the date of his death. The same source reported on February 2nd that Al-Raymi had died on a farm belonging to the head of the Islah group in Marib, Mabkhoot Obood Al-Sharif.
Given that the first known reports of al-Raymi’s death emerged on January 29th, post-dating all three alleged strikes in which he was reported to have died, it was impossible to reasonably exclude the possibility that he died in any of these three reported events.
On February 6th, a White House statement confirmed that al-Raymi had been killed by a January strike, but did not specify where or when he had died. “This was not a [Department of Defense] operation”, a US Pentagon official told Politico. A former US official told Foreign Policy that the strike was conducted by a CIA aircraft.
US Central Command told Airwars that no US military strikes were conducted in Yemen during January 2020, effectively confirming that the strike that killed Al-Raymi was a CIA operation. This event is treated as declared to account for the admission.
Al-Raymi had been the leader of AQAP since 2015, having been a founding member of the group in 2006. On February 23rd 2020, AQAP confirmed that al-Raymi had died, and announced Khalid Batarfi as its new leader, according to Dr Elisabeth Kendall.
The incident occured around dawn.
Sources (89) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention the village of Al Hazma (لحزمة), allegedly immediately north-east of the city of Ma’rib (مأرب), within the Wadi Obeida (وادي عبيدة) area. The generic coordinates for Al Hazma are: 15.56667, 45.38333. It is important to note the existence of another Al Hazma, south-east of Ma’rib city, at these coordinates: 15.44646, 45.39902. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
At the direction of President Donald J. Trump, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi, a founder and the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Rimi joined al-Qa’ida in the 1990s, working in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden. Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces. His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security. The United States, our interests, and our allies are safer as a result of his death. We will continue to protect the American people by tracking down and eliminating terrorists who seek to do us harm.