Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

New Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula leader Batarfi will revive group's core religious ideology, say analysts

Extremists in Yemen confirm death of leader Qasim Al Rimi

Khaled Batarfi was formerly a spokesman for Aqap. AFP
Khaled Batarfi was formerly a spokesman for Aqap. AFP

Yemen analysts see Khalid Batarfi’s selection as a new leader for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a move to revive the terrorist group’s fragmented religious ideology.

Earlier on Sunday, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed the death of its leader Qasim Al Rimi.

That paved the way to leadership for Batarfi, also known as Abu Al Miqdad Al Kindi, a Saudi Arabian militant and a senior member of Aqap.

In early February, US media reported that the US conducted a strike targeting Mr Al Rimi, who led the terror group's franchise based in Yemen and had expressed interest in conducting attacks targeting the United States.

Al Rimi was one of 23 men who escaped in the February 2006 prison-break in Yemen, along with other notable Al Qaeda members.

He was connected to a July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists.

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

“Batarfi is a strong and charismatic Al Qaeda ideologue,” Dr Elisabeth Kendall, Yemen expert at the University of Oxford, told The National.

"His appointment may be designed to revive the core religious ideology of the group in the wake of its recent fragmentation and pursuit of expedient pragmatic goals.

“Batarfi has been prolific in Aqap media, issuing several video series offering guidance.

"These include Stories from the Prophets in 2017, in which he extracted lessons for modern life on everything from good parenting to fighting oppression over 20 episodes.

"He also released the video series Towards Correct Consciousness” in 2015 to teach people how to think 'the Al Qaeda way'.

“Much less has been heard from Batarfi since Al Qaeda’s self-imposed internet ban in December 2017. But he has broken his silence at significant moments to issue important responses to political events on behalf of Aqap."

Yemeni military analyst Brig Thabet Saleh said the death of Rimi was a major blow for the organisation in the Arab peninsula.

Brig Hussein thinks appointing Batarfi as a successor for Al Rimi highlights the links between Al Qaeda’s ideology and the political agenda of some tribal factions in Yemen, which struggle to preserve their dominance in oil-rich areas in the country's south.

“The northern provinces of Marib and Al Bayda have been the safe havens for Al Qaeda in the last three years, because the security forces who were constructed by the UAE in the southern province in Yemen inflicted fatal blows to the terror groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS," he said.

"The top leaders of Al Qaeda were forced to flee out to the northern strongholds in Marib and Al Bayda.

"Consequently, Batarfi was selected to lead the organisation due to his big influence on the tribal community in the south."

Yemen analyst Joshua Koontz said selecting Batarfi highlighted the major role he played in the leadership of the organisation.

“Underlying factors in Khalid Batarfi’s selection may include his long-standing role in Al Qaeda’s network, his operational and strategic leadership experience and his international brand recognition,” Mr Koontz told The National

“Batarfi’s promotion signals that Aqap is desperate to portray stability at a time when it is suffering from a leadership deficit, low morale, paranoia, defections and constant pressure from the Houthis and ISIS in its few remaining pockets of control."

Updated: February 24, 2020 08:09 AM

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