WASHINGTON — An American drone strike has killed a top ideologue and spokesman for Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the terrorist group announced Tuesday. The spokesman, Ibrahim al-Rubeish, a 35-year-old Saudi citizen, had been held for five years in the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay.
A statement from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, posted on Twitter, said that Mr. Rubeish was killed Monday in what it called a “hate-filled Crusader strike” near Al Mukalla, a city on Yemen’s southern coast.
(snip)Since 2009, Mr. Rubeish has been the group’s voice in many important pronouncements, including a video eulogy for Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric killed in a drone strike in 2011.
For several years, American counterterrorism officials have seen Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the terrorist group posing the greatest threat to the United States. It was responsible for two failed plots to blow up United States-bound airliners: one in 2009 that used explosives hidden in a bomber’s underwear, and a foiled attack in 2010 using bombs hidden in printer cartridges addressed to Chicago and sent aboard cargo planes.
The life and death of Mr. Rubeish reflected several stages in the struggle of the United States to deal with terrorist suspects since 2001, including his imprisonment at Guantánamo and his participation in a Saudi rehabilitation program for militants, which evidently failed.
According to a biography prepared by officials at Guantánamo, Mr. Rubeish was born into a wealthy Saudi family and earned a certificate in Islamic law. He wanted to join the fight against Russian forces in Chechnya, but after traveling to Pakistan for training he was directed to a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in May 2001, when he was about 22.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, he fought at Tora Bora in Afghanistan and was captured by Pakistani forces and turned over to the United States, arriving at Guantánamo in January 2002. A 2005 assessment judged that he was a member of Al Qaeda who posed a “medium” risk and said that he had “some type of leadership role among detainees and strongly influences them.” He contributed an “Ode to the Sea” to a collection of poems by Guantánamo prisoners published in 2007.
Earlier in 2005, Mr. Rubeish was among several Guantánamo detainees to challenge their detention with a habeas corpus petition in federal court in Washington. The petition was denied, but in December 2006, the George W. Bush administration sent Mr. Rubeish home to Saudi Arabia on the condition that he enter the rehabilitation program.
That program generally has a good reputation among counterterrorism experts, but among its most prominent failures were militants who helped form Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2009.
The former deputy leader of that Qaeda branch, Saeed al-Shihri, followed the same path from Guantánamo to the Saudi rehab program and then to Yemen, where he died in a drone strike in 2013.