top of page

Head of AQAP Captured

On February 2, 2021, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) announced that an operation conducted in October of 2020 resulted in the capture of the Khalid Batarfi, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (تنظيم القاعدة في جزيرة العرب‎) (AQAP). The second-in-command of the group, Saad Atef al-Awlaqi, was also liquidated in a related operation.

Biography of Batarfi

Khalid Batarfi was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1979 or 1980. Although details about Batarfi's life prior to 1999 are hard to come by, they are not non-existent. Evidence discovered or referred to by The Intelligence Ledger indicate that the head of AQAP attended high school in Jeddah, completing his studies with high marks. His hard work ethic, coupled with dedication to Islamic studies, granted him the opportunity to study alongside some of the most prominent Salafi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia.

In 1999, Batarfi upended his life and moved to Afghanistan. While there, he received training at one of Al-Qaeda's most notorious camps near Kandahar. After completing a difficult and rigorous regimen of training, the future leader of AQAP picked up arms and assisted the Taliban in the fight against Ahmad Shah Massoud. Despite the fact Batarfi was forced to abandon Afghanistan following the invasion of the Islamic Emirate by American forces during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), he continued to assist AQ by in Pakistan. Eventually, Batarfi was arrested in Iran and transferred to Yemen.

Despite repeated movements across multiple national borders, Batarfi maintained a low profile. This assisted him when he lobbied then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for an early release in 2004. In 2010, Batarfi spearheaded AQAP's offensive into Abyan, Yemen. After successfully subduing the govenorate, he was named the group's emir. Despite his success in the field, Batarfi was unable to evade capture. While traveling to visit family in Taiz, Yemen during the summer of 2011, Batarfi was captured by Yemenese security forces. He would not be freed until 2015, when AQAP launched an offensive against Al-Mukalla and captured the city's prison.

Batarfi inherited control of AQAP in 2020 following the death of Qasim al-Raymi in a US drone strike.


The Intelligence Ledger assesses that the capture of Batarfi is one of the most important events to occur in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As one of the most senior members of al Qaeda ever captured alive, he is an invaluable intelligence asset to the United States and United Nations. Furthermore, his capture is a major propaganda coup for the coalition, as AQAP and affiliated organizations believe martyrdom is more respectable than capture. For that reason, this organization believes the announcement of Batarfi's capture may severely damage AQAP's reputation and increase the flow of defections from the organization.


bottom of page