On February 6, the White House confirmed that Qasim al-Raymi (or al-Rimi), who repeatedly threatened America as the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had been killed in a “counterterrorism operation”—meaning a drone strike. The CIA hunted Raymi for years, after successfully hunting down several other senior AQAP figures.
The White House’s statement contains an observation that deserves more attention. Namely, Raymi was not only “a founder and the leader of” AQAP, but also “a deputy” to al-Qaeda’s global leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. That’s a subtly important description.
It likely means that Raymi was a part of al-Qaeda’s senior management team, which sets policies and provides direction to jihadist groups everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. That is, Raymi’s influence within the jihadist world wasn’t confined to AQAP’s strongholds in Yemen. This is consistent with what we know about Raymi’s predecessor as AQAP head, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who was killed in a June 2015 drone strike. Wuhayshi was both the overall emir (or leader) of AQAP, and a top deputy to Zawahiri.
But what were Raymi’s exact title and responsibilities within al-Qaeda? We don’t know. Was he in the line of succession to replace the elderly Zawahiri? Presumably, but we can’t say for certain where he was in the pecking order. On which internal al-Qaeda committees and councils did Raymi serve? There are no publicly available answers to these basic questions.