SANAA (Reuters) - A Saudi who was freed by U.S. authorities from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to become second-in-command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has died after being wounded by Yemeni security forces, a Yemeni security official said on Friday.
Said al-Shehri suffered injuries in an operation by the security apparatus on November 28 in the northern province of Saada, a member of Yemen’s supreme security committee told the Yemeni state news agency.
He subsequently fell into a coma and then died, the source said, without saying when exactly Shehri had died.
“He was buried by al Qaeda in an unknown location as a strategy to keep up the morale of its members,” the source, who was not named, was quoted as saying.
It was not the first time Yemen had announced Shehri’s death. In September, the Ministry of Defense said he had been killed in an army operation, only for him to issue an audio tape a month later.
But whereas in September Saudi Arabia declined to confirm the death, this week Saudi-owned media have reported that Shehri is dead.
U.S. officials described Shehri as one of the most important al Qaeda-linked militants to be released from the Guantanamo detention facility, where he was taken in January 2002 after Pakistan handed him to U.S. authorities.
Shehri, a former officer in Saudi Arabia’s internal security force, allegedly joined al Qaeda and helped to facilitate the movements of Saudi militants seeking to travel to Afghanistan via Iran, according to a classified Pentagon report made public by WikiLeaks.
According to the Pentagon document, Shehri was “assessed to be a HIGH risk” prisoner because “he is likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies”.
A U.S. official familiar with the case said Shehri was one of numerous Saudi militants at Guantanamo released by the administration of President George W. Bush under heavy pressure from Saudi authorities and the U.S. court system.
Shehri was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and put through a Saudi rehabilitation program for militants.
But he later returned to the battlefield in Yemen, and became AQAP’s number two, leading one U.S. official to call him a “poster child for recidivism”.
Shehri was wanted by Yemeni authorities for a suspected role in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Sanaa in 2008.
AQAP, which has planned attacks on international targets including airliners, is described by Washington, which has repeatedly used unmanned drones to target its members, as perhaps al Qaeda’s most dangerous and innovative affiliate.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Kevin Liffey