Yemen's al-Qaeda branch announced today via Twitter that its top cleric, a Saudi national who has had a $5 million bounty on his head, has been killed. Ibrahim al-Rubaish was killed, along with other, unnamed members of the group, allegedly by a drone late Sunday. The statement didn't specify the location of the drone attack. Yemeni and US officials had no immediate comment. Al-Rubaish, believed to be in his late 30s, was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2006, after which he joined al-Qaeda in Yemen. He was considered the group's main ideologue and theological adviser, and his writings and sermons were prominent in its publications.
Last year, he hailed the seizure of large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria by al-Qaeda's rival, the Islamic State. "I ask God that efforts are united to target the enemies of the religion," he said in a video at the time. If the drone attack is confirmed, it would be the first use of unmanned aircraft since Yemen sank further into turmoil last month, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to launch airstrikes on March 26 in an attempt to halt Yemen's Houthi rebels. US officials had been concerned their counterterrorism capabilities would be diminished because of the withdrawal of their staff. However, they said the al-Qaeda branch will likely be drawn toward the internal Yemeni conflict, and away from plotting to go after Western targets. Earlier this month, al-Qaeda sprang some 300 prisoners in a massive jailbreak. (Read more Yemen stories.)