WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jamal al-Badawi, wanted by the United States for his suspected role in the attack on the USS Cole 18 years ago, was killed in a precision strike in Yemen on Jan. 1, US Central Command said on Sunday.
Badawi was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2003 over his role in the October 2000 deadly bombing of the USS Cole, a Navy guided-missile destroyer. He escaped from prison in Yemen twice, once in 2003 and again in 2006.
“US forces confirmed the results of the strike following a deliberate assessment process,” said Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban, two days after the Defense Department said US forces had targeted Badawi in the strike.
It is the latest blow to Yemen’s al Qaeda branch, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has lost key leaders in US strikes in recent years. In 2018, US officials said they believed that Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, once one of the world’s most feared bombmakers, had been killed.
Still, Katherine Zimmerman at the American Enterprise Institute conservative thinktank cautioned that AQAP had proven it will remain a threat. The group has benefited from the chaos of Yemen’s civil war, although it has lost major strongholds, including the port city of Mukallah.
“There is certainly a degradation of the leadership,” Zimmerman said.
“The big concern is that al Qaeda has always proven that its bench is much deeper and there is no clear strategy for stabilizing Yemen and setting the conditions where we don’t have a new generation (of militants) coming forward.”
Yemen’s conflict has pushed it to the verge of famine, with millions relying on food aid.
The death of Badawi removes perhaps the last major figure in the USS Cole attack from the battlefield.
US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Our GREAT MILITARY has delivered justice for the heroes lost and wounded in the cowardly attack on the USS Cole.”
There was a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
The Cole attack was a devastating blow to the US Navy.
On Oct. 12, 2000, two men in a small boat detonated explosives alongside the vessel as it was refueling in Aden, killing 17 sailors, wounding more than three dozen others and blasting a gaping hole in its hull.
Reporting by Mary Milliken and Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien