Days after a raid on an al Qaeda compound in Yemen led to the first US military combat death under Donald Trump, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released an audio message taunting the new American President.
In an 11-minute recording, AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi condemned the January 29 raid, saying, “The new fool of the White House received a painful slap across his face.”
The message was released online Saturday and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In the recording, Rimi also claimed “dozens of Americans were killed and wounded,” a number starkly at odds with the US account, which reported the death of one Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. Three additional SEALs also were wounded.
Rimi acknowledged the deaths of 14 men and 11 women and children in the raid, a joint counterterrorism effort between the United States and United Arab Emirates.
A senior US military official told CNN on Monday that Rimi was a target of the operation. The recording was released after last week’s raid.
Reportedly among the dead was the 8-year-old the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the late US-born cleric who directed attacks against the United States. Awlaki was killed in 2011.
Reprieve, a London-based nongovernmental organization, and a Sanaa-based human rights worker told CNN that at least 23 civilians were killed in the attack.
“When the Americans escaped, they dragged their killed and wounded, and they found no other alternative but to destroy their own planes so that it would not be proof of their scandal,” Rimi said.
The senior US military official told CNN on Monday that intelligence collection wasn’t the only objective of the Yemen raid but that it had also targeted Rimi.
In the event Rimi wasn’t there, the US military believed it would find intelligence that would help lead to him, the official said.
Green-lighting the mission was not dependent on al-Rimi being there, however, a senior US military official emphasized.
US Central Command, which oversees forces in the region, and the Pentagon are strongly denying al-Rimi was an objective of the raid.
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said, “There was never any intention, hope, anticipation or plan that he would be part of this operation.”
“It wasn’t a high-value target mission,” Col. John Thomas told CNN, referring to operations aimed at killing or capturing terrorist leaders.
Thomas added no hard intelligence indicated a “high possibility” Rimi was at the compound on the night of the raid, saying that Navy SEALs would have captured any leaders of the al Qaeda affiliate, including Rimi, as part of an intelligence-gathering operation.
“Anyone found on site would have been taken,” Thomas said.
NBC first reported that Rimi was a target of the raid.
The chance to take out such a pivotal member of al Qaeda may explain the large allocation of resources used in the mission.
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