The leader of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has been under arrest since October, and the terror group has suffered an erosion of its ranks caused by desertions, according to a United Nations report released Thursday.
The report marked official confirmation that AQAP chief Khalid Batarfi had been detained, following unconfirmed reports. His arrest represents a propaganda embarrassment for the group, which promotes the idea of “martydom” among its followers, and could provide potentially invaluable intelligence to counterterrorism efforts led by the United States.
Batarfi was arrested and his deputy, Saad Atef al Awlaqi, died during an “operation in Ghayda City, Al-Mahrah Governorate, in October,” according to the report to the U.N. Security Council from a U.N. monitoring team that tracks Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other extremist groups.
The report did not offer further details about the arrest or where Batarfi is being held.
The U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon were not immediately available to comment.
The U.N. report said AQAP had faced internal setbacks in recent months. “In addition to leadership losses, AQAP is suffering an erosion of its ranks caused by dissensions and desertions, led primarily by one of Batarfi’s ex-lieutenants, Abu Omar al-Nahdi,” the report said.
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But AQAP still posed a threat and had staged a significant attack in Lawdar in December, the report said.
The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information on Bartafi, saying he had trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, fought alongside the Taliban after 2001 and made public threats against the U.S. He was designated a global terrorist by the State Department in 2018.
The U.N. report also warned that an eventual easing of Covid-19 restrictions could open the way for a surge in Islamic State attacks.