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Al-Qaeda in Yemen confirms leader killed in drone strike

Nasir al-Wuhayshi was considered the second man in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
People gather outside a camp after it was seized by al-Qaeda fighters on 12 February in Yemen's southern Shabwa province (AFP)

Top al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed on Friday in a suspected US drone strike in Yemen's Hadramout region, according to a video statement posted online.

Tweets from known AQAP operatives also spoke of al-Wuhayshi having been martyred, and of AQAP military commander Qasm al-Rimi having been appointed as Wuhayshi's replacement.

AQAP also said it chose its military chief Qassem al-Rimi as its new leader, in the statement posted by al-Qaeda's Al-Malahem media arm, dated 15 June.  

Wuhayshi "was killed in a US drone attack that targeted him along with two other mujahedeen," who were also killed, said the statement read by a long-bearded man.

The statement said that a number of al-Qaeda chiefs met and chose Rimi as Wuhayshi's successor.

AQAP is behind several plots against the United States, including an attempt to blow up a US commercial airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

In a video that surfaced in April last year, Wuhayshi - 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 made it clear that he was going after the United States, saying: "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"

Originally from Yemen, 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, according to CNN.

"If it's true, it is a significant blow. Leadership matters," Angus King, an independent senator of Maine, told CNN on Monday.

King said the death would hurt al-Qaeda, but stressed the group still posed 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.

The drone strike comes after al-Qaeda militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar was targeted by a US airstrike on Sunday.

The one-eyed commander Belmokhtar was the leader of the north African al-Murabitoun militant group and a former chief of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The Tobruk-based Libyan government said that Belmokhtar was killed in the strike, although the US has yet to confirm this.