Three to four militants, including one of the most senior leaders of AQAP (Al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula) were killed in a US drone strike on a road between the regions of Ma’rib and Jawf, near the Obeida valley on the afternoon of the 22nd of April, 2012. The majority of media sources, both local and international, report the number of militants killed in the strike as “at least three” (referencing a statement made on the incident by the Yemen defence ministry). However, one report by the Associated Press (AP) on the 22nd of April stated that ‘military officials’ had claimed that a minimum of four people died in the strike.
Mohammed Saeed al-Umda (alias: Abu Ghareeb Al-Taizi) was killed when his car was struck by a missile as it travelled along a desert road within the region of al-Samdah. Al-Masdar Online quoted local sources who claimed that the strike had occurred “twenty kilometres from the city of Ma’rib in the northeastern direction.” On the 29th of April, @Flashpointintel reported that Al Qaeda in Yemen had “released a statement on the death of the commander Gharib Al-Taazi (Muhammad al-‘Omdah)”. The next day, on the 30th of April, the Long War Journal reported that al-Umda’s death, along with the deaths of “two mujahideen” had been announced and confirmed by AQAP on several jihadist websites.
The attack was initially reported by local sources simply as an “air raid” or “airstrike” with @brqnews specifically stating that the strike was conducted by “warplanes”. Xinhua also initially reported that an Al Qaeda convoy had been attacked by “Yemeni air forces”, however the deployment of US drones in the strike was soon acknowledged by US officials. Furthermore, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has concluded that the Yemeni Air Force (YAF) lacked “the technical ability to carry out such a precise strike” at the time.
Due to al-Umda’s high profile as Yemen’s fourth ‘most wanted’ al-Qaeda leader, the strike received extensive media coverage. According to ABC News, “the strike targeted the SUV he was riding in as part of a ‘militant convoy’ in a remote desert region of southern Yemen.”
ABC News added that US officials had acknowledged that “the attack was conducted by a CIA drone.” Almotamar also reported that a ‘local security source’ from Ma’rib governorate had confirmed the deaths of three Al Qaeda members.
‘Al-Masdar Online’ and ‘Aden al-Ghad’ reported accounts of the strike from different local sources. Aden al-Ghad reported that witnesses observed that “the raid destroyed the targeted cars and that flames were still rising from them” with other witnesses stating that “the bombing caused permanent damage to one of the cars, while the other was severely damaged”. Additionally, Bloomberg quoted a statement made by Yemen’s defence ministry which said that “a third vehicle was able to escape.”
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, AQAP released a statement via ‘WefaPress’ several months later in October, confirming the names of al-Umda’s two aides killed in the air strike as “Hassah Hussein Dalel and Basher al Najidi”.
Several western media sources stressed the significance of al-Umda’s death and his prominent role within AQAP. CNN, ABC and Boston.com all referred to statements made by the Yemeni embassy in Washington and the nation’s interior ministry which emphasised that al-Umda was not only one of AQAP’s “top commanders”, but that he was also tasked with providing logistical and financial support. The statement issued by the Yemeni embassy also added that al-Umda had been trained in Afghanistan under the supervision of Osama bin Laden.
Reuters, on the 26th of April, reported that a spokesman for al-Qaeda affiliate organisation ‘Ansar al-Sharia’ had contacted their staff by phone to inform them that an attack made against a gas pipeline in the eastern province of Shabwa was carried out “in response to the killing of an al-Qaeda leader in the central Ma’rib province.” Although it is not confirmed, it seems possible that this pipeline attack may have been an attempted response to the killing of al-Umda.
Due to the nature of both CIA and US military involvement in Yemen, and the lack of official acknowledgement by the CIA for their involvement, Airwars grades this event as “declared” due to the comments made by US government sources to media, in lieu of public reporting on CIA actions.
The incident occured in the afternoon.
Sources (32) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention the desert area Sanda (or Samdah) between the governorates Ma’rib (مَأْرِب) and Jawf (الجوف). One source mentions that the Sanda area is near Obeida valley (الحرقان عبيدة). The coordinates for Obeida valley are: 15.515556, 45.395278. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
US Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
ABC News added that US officials had acknowledged that “the attack was conducted by a CIA drone."