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Report: Top al Qaeda leader killed

By Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
updated 7:26 AM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
A screen shot of a video shows Al-Qaeda's Said al-Shihri on October 6, 2010.
A screen shot of a video shows Al-Qaeda's Said al-Shihri on October 6, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Abu Sufyan al-Azdi was deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
  • A prominent jihadist announces his death
  • Three senior Yemeni defense officials, however, say they can't confirm it
  • Al-Azdi was one of the most wanted men in Saudi Arabia

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- The deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the most wanted men in Saudi Arabia has been killed, a prominent jihadist announced Tuesday, though officials in the group's home base of Yemen said they had no evidence of his death.

Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, also known as Saeed al-Shahri, died "after a long journey in fighting the Zio-Crusader campaign," jihadist Abdulla bin Muhammad said on his Twitter account. The tweet was reported by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors global terrorism.

Read more: Senior al Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan, officials say

It was not clear how al-Azdi died. SITE said media reports indicated he died of injuries incurred in a December drone strike.

The Arabic news network Al-Arabiya reported al-Azdi's death, citing his relatives.

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Three senior Yemeni Defense Ministry officials told CNN the country has no evidence proving his death.

"We have no evidence to prove his death and our government continues to hunt down the leaderships of the terror network," one of the officials told CNN on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to media.

Read more: Amnesty details 'horrific abuses' in southern Yemen

He said more than 80 suspected al Qaeda militants have been killed since early December but that al-Azdi is still out there.

Al-Azdi has been reported dead in the past, the latest incident being in September when Yemen claimed he was killed in an air raid. An audio message released the next month supposedly featured al-Azdi saying he was still alive.

Al-Azdi spent six years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay before being released in 2007. A Saudi national, he escaped Saudi Arabia to Yemen in 2008.

Read more: CNN Fact Check: Is al Qaeda's core decimated or is group growing?

U.S. drone activity increased in 2012 targeting senior leaders of AQAP. Monday, a U.S.-led drone strike in Marib, an oil-rich province of Yemen east of the capital, targeted a vehicle carrying alleged al Qaeda operatives. The strike killed two militants, identified by the defense ministry as Ali Saleh Toaiman and Qassim Nasser Toaiman, and wounded five others.

Saturday, two U.S drone strikes killed eight people in Marib and another province, al-Baitha.

Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced in October that Yemen would step up its military operations with the United States against al Qaeda operatives. In response, al Qaeda carried out a number of attacks on military and security commanders, personnel, patrols and installations, killing more than 60 people, according to Yemen's Interior Ministry.

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