Terror leader who claimed responsibility for Naval Air Station Pensacola attack killed by U.S.

Undated file photos provided by the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior shows AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi, who was killed in an American airstrike last month. Yemeni Ministry of Interior/AFP

(Compiled from reports by Nikki Carvajal and Caroline Kelly at CNN and Scott Neuman at NPR) –President Trump on Thursday announced a successful U.S. counterterrorism operation that killed Qassim al-Rimi, the leader of a Yemen-based al-Qaeda affiliate who claimed responsibility for December’s deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. [A 22 year-old Saudi Air Force officer, who was being trained there, opened fire inside a classroom at the base, killing three people and wounding two sheriff’s deputies before one of the deputies killed him. Eight others were also hurt.].

In a brief White House statement released late Thursday, the president said he had ordered the operation in Yemen “that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi, a founder and leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.” [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is a militant Islamist group primarily active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia that is part of the al-Qaeda network. It has long been considered the terrorist group’s most dangerous branch, for its attempts to carry out attacks on the US mainland.]

Rimi’s death was first reported more than a week ago by The New York Times, in an article attributing the information to three current and former U.S. officials who said he had been killed in a U.S. airstrike. President Trump appeared to confirm the operation when he retweeted an article citing the Times’ original reporting on Sunday.

Rimi, a Yemeni national, reportedly served as a top lieutenant in Afghanistan to 9/11 mastermind (al-Qaida founder) Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in 2011.

The US government had offered a $10 million reward for information on Rimi.

The news comes following several other successful US military efforts to [kill top terrorist] leaders:

…The death of the leader of AQAP is…a significant moment. Rimi had been a US target since early in Trump’s tenure [and by the Obama administration before him – see “Background” below]. Rimi was a target of a January 2017 raid on an al Qaeda compound in Yemen that led to the first US military combat death (U.S. Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens) under the President, a senior US military official told CNN at the time.

Rimi taunted Trump and condemned the operation in an 11-minute recording days after the raid, saying that “the new fool of the White House received a painful slap across his face.”

Rimi’s “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,” President Trump said in a statement released on Thursday, concluding with:

“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.”

Rimi, formerly AQAP’s military chief, reportedly became the group’s leader following a 2015 drone strike that killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Rimi issued a video soon afterward calling supporters to attack the United States, urging that “all of you must direct and gather your arrows and swords against it.”

Many observers have considered AQAP among the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, branch of al Qaeda since its formation in 2009. The group claimed responsibility for the 2015 attack on the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 people, though experts could not confirm the group was behind the attack.

The US has sought to prevent al Qaeda from exploiting the chaos of Yemen’s civil war to establish a haven, but the number of US military strikes has declined sharply over the last few years.

The US military carried out 131 airstrikes in Yemen in 2017 and conducted 36 strikes in 2018, nearly all of them targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Last April, the US military carried out a series of six airstrikes in Yemen targeting the al Qaeda affiliate there.

Published at CNN .com (Updated 6:32 AM ET, Fri February 7, 2020) and NPR on Feb. 7. CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen, Euan McKirdy, Eli Watkins and Ryan Browne contributed to the CNN report. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission.


1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. (In this article, 1st and 2nd paragraphs). List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)

2. What is AQAP?

3. What do you learn about al-Rimi from this article?

4. Why is the killing of al-Rimi signifiant?

5. What did President Trump say in a statement released Thursday about the elimination of al-Rimi?

6. Read the “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources” below. During his State of the Union address, President Trump said, “Our message to the terrorists is clear. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life.”
a) What do you think of this message? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question and discuss your answers.


What we know about Qassim al-Rimi:

  • 2010, May 11:  The U.S. Department of State designated Rimi (also spelled Raymi) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).  On the same day, the U.N. Security Council added Rimi to its ISIS and Al-Qaida Sanctions List.
  • 2010 June: As with numerous times previously, Rimi (Raymi) was erroneously reported killed by an Obama ordered U.S. airstrike.
  • Raymi played a large role in “reviving the regional node of al-Qaeda” and “recruiting the current generation of militants making up the Yemen-based AQAP,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
  • Before officially taking over as AQAP’s emir (leader), Raymi served as the group’s Military Commander and successfully captured territory throughout Yemen’s southwestern regions.
  • 2015 June: Appointed head of AQAP.
  • 2015 July:  Reaffirmed his loyalty to al-Qaeda emir (leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri in an online video. “I pledge allegiance to you [Zawahiri]…and to wage jihad in the cause of Allah the Almighty,” Rimi professed. He said the pledge was on behalf of all of AQAP, and promised the fight against the United States would continue. Ayman al-Zawahiri became leader of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed.

  • 2019 December: Al-Rimi said in a video that AQAP was responsible for the December 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola (Florida). He called the shooter, Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani, a “courageous knight” and a “hero.” The shooter opened fire inside a classroom at the base, killing three people and wounding two sheriff’s deputies before one of the deputies killed him. Eight others were also hurt.
  • The shooting focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets. In January, the U.S. sent home 21 Saudi military students, saying the trainees had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms. (from CBS News)

AQAP is responsible for several terrorist plots, including:

  • an attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009. It failed when the Nigerian terrorist (“The Underwear Bomber”) was restrained after trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear.
  • The following year, an AQAP plot to ship bombs to the U.S., hidden in packages on commercial cargo planes, was foiled.
  • An AQAP-associated threat was cited as the reason for the temporary closure of more than 20 U.S. embassies in 2013
  • and in 2015, AQAP claimed responsibility for the killing of 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The two shooters were French-Algerian Muslim brothers, who had visited Yemen in 2011.

The White House described Rimi (Raymi) as AQAP leader and “deputy” to overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. It said he joined al-Qaeda in the 1990s and worked for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Rimi was named AQAP leader in 2015, after his predecessor Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed in a U.S. drone strike in eastern Yemen. (Wuhayshi had been leader since AQAP’s formal launch was announced in 2009, and like Rimi after him, was also named a deputy to al-Zawahiri.)

The State Department designated AQAP as a foreign terrorist organization in 2010, and months later designated Rimi, then its “senior military commander,” as a global terrorist.

In 2014 the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program announced a reward of $5 million for information bringing Rimi to justice, and then doubled it to $10 million in 2018.

In May 2017, Rimi issued a statement urging supporters in the West to carry out “simple” terrorist attacks, and praised Omar Mateen, the American Muslim who shot dead 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando Florida the previous year. (from a Feb. 7 CNS News report)

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