1. Ibrahim al-Asiri: Chief bombmaker of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Ibrahim al-Asiri first took a dangerous path toward radicalization after the United States’ invasion of Iraq. As a youth, he was raised in a largely middle class household in Saudi Arabia and was a regular kid, according to relatives. After the death of a sibling in a car accident, both Ibrahim and his brother Abdullah turned to radical Islam.
“It was after that that they started swapping videotapes and cassettes on the Mujahedeen in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and they became at times distant,” a sister told CNN.
Asiri was studying chemistry in Riyadh, learning expertise that would later serve him in his capacity as AQAP’s chief bombmaker when the Iraq War began. He dropped out of school.
Inspired by the mujahedeen who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, Ibrahim attempted to join the thousands of Arab youth who went to Iraq to fight American troops after the U.S. invasion. He was arrested along the way.
After spending nine months in prison, which only served to further radicalize him, he was released. After rejoining an al-Qeada terror cell inside Saudi Arabia, he fled to Yemen with his brother during a Saudi crackdown.
As a bombmaker, Asiri has been linked to the 2009 failed Christmas Day bombing by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the foiled 2010 cargo plane bomb plots. A 2009 attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef by inserting a bomb into Asiri’s brother’s rectum to avoid discovery failed. The attack killed his brother but only slightly injured Nayef, who was in charge of the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts.
2. Nasir al-Wuhayshi: Leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, reported al-Qaeda No. 2
Nasir al-Wuhayshi traveled in the 1990s from his native Yemen to Afghanistan, where he would rise to become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary. Little is known about his early life in Yemen.
“Wuhayshi was groomed by Osama bin Laden to take on a leadership role,” Gregory D. Johnsen, a Yemen expert and the author of The Last Refuge, told The New York Times.
After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Wuhayshi fled with bin Laden through Tora Bora and made his way to Iran. There, he was detained and then extradited to Yemen, where he was jailed without charges in a Sanaa prison.
In 2006, Wuhayshi was one of of 23 prisoners who fled a maximum-security prison in Sanaa in a daring escape that involved tunneling to a bathroom in a woman’s mosque located outside of the prison. The escape essentially relaunched al-Qaeda in Yemen.
With Wuhayshi as leader, AQAP has carried out numerous failed attacks on the U.S., including the 2009 failed Christmas Day bombing by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the foiled 2010 cargo plane bomb plots.
Various reports this week have said Wuhayshi was recently appointed the overall terror organization’s No. 2 by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
According to a 2010 New York Times profile of AQAP, he is less than five feet tall.
3. Qasim al-Raymi: Military Commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Qasim al-Raymi worked in a restaurant in his youth to save money to pay for his travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda sometime in the 1990s. After making the trek to the country, he become an instructor at a training camp and was known to be a good recruiter for the terrorist organization.
In 2006, Raymi was one of of 23 prisoners who tunneled out from a maximum-security prison in Sanaa in the escape that essentially relaunched al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The Yemeni government has said Raymi was a member of a cell responsible for a 2007 attack that killed eight Spanish tourists in in Ma’rib. He has been reported as the mastermind of the failed 2009 suicide attack on Saudi prince bin Nayef.
He has a younger brother in Guantanamo Bay.