* Seen as most important militant freed from Guantanamo
* Conflicting accounts on how alleged militant died
* Washington sees AQAP as most dangerous al Qaeda wing
ADEN/WASHINGTON, Sept 10 A Saudi national freed
by U.S. authorities from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who
then became second-in-command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula, or AQAP, was killed in Yemen, a Yemeni government
The Yemeni Ministry of Defense website said Said al-Shehri
was killed on Monday, along with six other militants, in what it
called a "qualitative operation" by Yemen's army in the remote
Hadramout province in eastern Yemen. It gave no further details.
There were conflicting reports on how Shehri died. A Yemeni
security source said Shehri was killed in an operation last
Wednesday in the Hadramout that was thought to have been carried
out by a U.S. drone, rather than the Yemeni military.
The source said another Saudi and an Iraqi national were
among the others killed. U.S. officials declined to comment on
whether a drone strike had occurred.
U.S. officials described Shehri as one of the most important
al Qaeda-linked militants to be released from the Guantanamo
detention facility, where he was taken in January 2002 after
being handed over by Pakistan to U.S. authorities.
A former officer in Saudi Arabia's internal security force,
Shehri allegedly joined al Qaeda and helped to facilitate the
movements of Saudi militants seeking to travel to Afghanistan
via Iran, according to a classified Pentagon report made public
According to the Pentagon document, Shehri was "assessed to
be a HIGH risk" prisoner because "he is likely to pose a threat
to the U.S., its interests and allies."
A U.S. official familiar with the case said Shehri was one
of numerous Saudi militants at Guantanamo released by the
administration of President George W. Bush under heavy pressure
from Saudi authorities and the U.S. court system.
Shehri was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and put through
a Saudi rehabilitation program for militants.
But he later returned to the battlefield in Yemen, and
became AQAP's number two, leading one U.S. official to
characterize him as a "poster child for recidivism." Shehri was
wanted by Yemeni authorities for a suspected role in a U.S.
embassy attack in 2008.
AQAP, which has planned attacks on international targets
including airliners, is described by Washington, which has
repeatedly used unmanned drones to target its members, as
perhaps al Qaeda's most dangerous and innovative affiliate.
Residents of the Wadi al-Ain district where last Wednesday's
drone attack occurred said they believed from their contacts
with Islamist fighters in the area that Shehri had died then,
when missiles struck a house where they were meeting.
"There was a group of people from the Ansar al-Sharia group
who were holding a meeting - Shehri was one of them and there
were foreigners there too," said Elwi Suleiman. Ansar al-Sharia
is one of a number of Yemeni militant groups linked to al Qaeda.
There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in
the accounts given by Yemeni authorities and locals.
LAWLESSNESS ALARMS ALLIES
Yemen's government is trying to re-establish order after an
uprising pushed out veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh in
February, but faces threats from Islamist militants, southern
secessionists and a Shi'ite rebel movement in the north.
Protests and factional fighting have allowed AQAP to seize
swathes of south Yemen, and Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels to
carve out their own domain in the north.
The lawlessness has alarmed the United States and Yemen's
neighbor Saudi Arabia, the top world oil exporter, which view
the impoverished state as a new front line in their war on al
Qaeda and its affiliates.
Washington backed a military offensive in May to recapture
areas of Abyan province. Militants struck back with a series of
bombings and assassinations.
A southern Yemeni politician who returned from exile
survived an assassination attempt on Monday, a security source
said. Last week, 10 civilians were killed in an apparent drone
attack that missed its target or was based on wrong information.