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LONDON — The newly appointed leader of al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate is a senior commander whose longstanding devotion to jihad landed him on the United States’ "Most Wanted" list of terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head.
Qassim Al-Rimi was named Tuesday as the new head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) following the death of Nasir al-Wuhayshi in a U.S. strike.
AQAP is considered the most violent branch of al Qaeda, and intelligence officials have regarded it for some time as the most likely to stage an attack on the West.
As the senior military commander of AQAP, al-Rimi has been described by Washington as playing “a key role in reviving the regional node” of the terror group.
“In addition to his activities as AQAP’s senior military commander, al-Rimi has played an important role in recruiting the current generation of militants making up the Yemen-based AQAP,” according to the State Department.
Al-Rimi was one of 23 jihadis who broke out of a jail in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in 2006 by tunneling their way towards a nearby mosque. Among the other escapees were men convicted for their role in bomb attacks on the destroyer USS Cole in 2000 and the French tanker Limburg in 2002.
His name was added to the U.S. list of “most wanted” terrorists in May 2010.
He made a rare public apology in a 2013 video, saying one of his fighters had disobeyed orders and attacked a hospital in an assault that killed 52 people.
"Now we acknowledge our mistake and guilt," al-Rimi said in the video, promising to “pay blood money for the victims' families."
However, he added: “We are continuing with our jihad."
Last year he railed against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, promising that al Qaeda would fight them to the death for control of the country, which has since descended into civil war.
AQAP claimed credit for the deadly attacks in Paris on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and is the same terror organization that killed an American hostage in Yemen late last year after a failed rescue.
The group tried to down a commercial airliner heading to Detroit in late 2009 and also was behind a failed plot the following year to blow up American cargo planes using bombs hidden in printer cartridges.