Khalid Batarfi is a U.S.-designated Yemen-based leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).Oren Adaki, “AQAP Storms Yemeni Prison, Frees Jihadist Leader,” Long War Journal, April 2, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/aqap-storms-yemeni-prison-frees-al-qaeda-leader.php. He was reportedly a media specialist as well as a military commander who planned terrorist attacks in Yemen.“AQAP Militants Arrested,” Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute, March 17, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/hotspot/aqap-militants-arrested. He was formerly AQAP’s emir (leader) of Abyan, a province in southeastern Yemen and was reportedly a former member of AQAP’s governing shura council.“AQAP Militants Arrested,” Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute, March 17, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/hotspot/aqap-militants-arrested; Tucker Reals and Khaled Wassef, “Amid Yemen chaos, al Qaeda stages prison break,” CBS News, April 2, 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/yemen-prison-break-aqap-senior-commander-saudi-bombing-campaign/. On February 23, 2020, al-Qaeda confirmed AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi’s death and AQAP announced Batarfi as the group’s new leader.Gregory D. Johnsen, “Khalid Batarfi and the Future of AQAP,” Lawfare, March 22, 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/khalid-batarfi-and-future-aqap.
Batarfi was born in 1979 in the Saudi city of Riyadh. After graduating from secondary school in Jeddah, he studied underneath several famous Islamist scholars, including al-Qaeda linked ideologue Abu Qatada.“Who is Khalid Bātarfi,” JustPaste, July 12, 2015, https://justpaste.it/mb2f. According to a resume released by AQAP, Batarfi traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 to train at al-Qaeda’s al-Farouq camp. In 2001, Batarfi fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and U.S. forces.“Al-Qaeda in Yemen publishes the biography of its current leaders,” Yemen-24.com, December 10, 2015, http://yemen-24.com/news20308.html.
In 2010, Batarfi joined AQAP in Yemen. That year, AQAP captured Yemen’s Abyan Province and named Batarfi its emir (leader).James Brandon, “AQAP Rebounds in Yemen Amid Airstrikes,” Jamestown Foundation, April 17, 2015, http://www.refworld.org/docid/5538ae3e4.html;
“Al-Qaeda in Yemen publishes the biography of its current leaders,” Yemen-24.com, December 10, 2015, http://yemen-24.com/news20308.html;
Richard Spencer, “The al-Qaeda commander at home in a governor’s palace,” Telegraph (London), April 4, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/11515401/The-al-Qaeda-commander-at-home-in-a-governors-palace.html. Yemeni security forces captured Batarfi in March 2011.“AQAP Militants Arrested,” Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute, March 17, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/hotspot/aqap-militants-arrested;
Umberto Bacchi, “Yemen: Al-Qaeda frees 300 in al-Mukalla prison attack,” International Business Times, April 2, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/yemen-al-qaeda-frees-300-al-mukalla-prison-attack-1494697. He escaped from al-Mukalla’s central prison on April 2, 2015, in the course of an AQAP raid.“AQAP Militants Arrested,” Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute, March 17, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/hotspot/aqap-militants-arrested;
Umberto Bacchi, “Yemen: Al-Qaeda frees 300 in al-Mukalla prison attack,” International Business Times, April 2, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/yemen-al-qaeda-frees-300-al-mukalla-prison-attack-1494697. Soon after his escape, Batarfi trampled on the Yemeni flag in the evacuated provincial palace in al-Mukalla.Umberto Bacchi, “Yemen: Al Qaeda operative Khalid Batarfi takes selfies inside Mukalla government,” International Business Times, April 4, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/yemen-al-qaeda-operative-khalid-batarfi-takes-selfies-inside-mukalla-government-1494971. He also took photographs, including “selfies,” of himself brandishing an AK-47 inside the palace.Umberto Bacchi, “Yemen: Al Qaeda operative Khalid Batarfi takes selfies inside Mukalla government,” International Business Times, April 4, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/yemen-al-qaeda-operative-khalid-batarfi-takes-selfies-inside-mukalla-government-1494971.
Batarfi has appeared in several AQAP videos and other propaganda. In August 2015, AQAP released a video of Batarfi praising Chattanooga shooter Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez and condemning “America, France, and other kufr nations.”“Al-Qaida calls for more lone wolf attacks, praises Chattanooga shooter,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, August 4, 2015, http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2015/aug/04/report-al-qaida-urges-more-lone-wolf-attacks-praises-chattanooga-shooter/318246/. When AQAP’s ideological leader Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi was killed by a U.S. drone strike in April 2015, Batarfi officially announced his death.“AQAP Leader Who Claimed Charlie Hebdo Attack Killed by U.S. Drone,” CBS, May 7, 2015, http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/2015/05/07/cbs-ap-aqap-leader-who-claimed-charlie-hebdo-attack-killed-by-u-s-drone.html. In June 2016, Batarfi issued a statement praising AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi after he was killed in a U.S. air strike that month. Batarfi threatened that al-Qaeda would target the U.S. economy, attack U.S. interests, and “destroy them.”Cassandra Vinograd and Robert Windrem, “Al Qaeda confirms death of terrorist leader in US airstrike,” MSNBC, June 16, 2015, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/al-qaeda-confirms-death-nasir-al-wuhayshi-aqap-leader.
In June 2017, Batarfi condemned Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt for severing ties with Qatar. Batarfi issued a statement of solidarity on behalf of AQAP after the four countries designated several Muslim Brotherhood- and al-Qaeda-related individuals in Qatar. Batarfi condemned the terror list as a “war against Muslims” and called all Islamic scholars, preachers, and groups to support “jihad” against “the tyrants.”Huda al-Saleh, “Al-Qaeda condemns boycott against Qatar, stands with the Muslim Brotherhood,” June 16, 2017, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/06/16/Al-Qaeda-condemns-boycott-against-Qatar-stands-with-the-Muslim-Brotherhood.html.
On October 18, 2018, the U.S. Department of State offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Batarfi. On February 23, 2020, al-Qaeda confirmed AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi’s death.“Al-Qaida Confirms Death of AQAP Leader,” Voice of America, February 23, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/al-qaida-confirms-death-aqap-leader. On the same day, AQAP announced that it had selected Batarfi as the group’s new leader.Gregory D. Johnsen, “Khalid Batarfi and the Future of AQAP,” Lawfare, March 22, 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/khalid-batarfi-and-future-aqap.
On October 2, 2020, a pro-ISIS Telegram channel claimed that Batarfi turned himself into Yemeni forces following a Saudi-led raid in al-Mahrah. Allegedly, two key AQAP commanders were also killed in the raid.“Pro-ISIS Telegram Channel Alleges Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Leader Khalid Batarfi Turned Himself In To Yemeni Forces In Al-Mahrah During Raid That Killed Two Key Al-Qaeda Commanders,” The Middle East Media Research Institute, October 7, 2020, https://www.memri.org/jttm/pro-isis-telegram-channel-alleges-al-qaeda-arabian-peninsula-aqap-leader-khalid-batarfi-turned; “Gulf of Aden Security Review,” Critical Threats, October 5, 2020, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-october-5-2020#_edn4528c5682c5f4a0d107d760023177f711. On February 3, 2021, the U.N. Security Council released a report confirming Batarfi had been arrested in October 2020 and turned over to Saudi authorities.“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/S/2021/68. The following day, U.S. military officials disputed the report and claimed Batarfi had eluded capture and was still at large.Jared Szuba, “Updated: US disputes UN report on capture of Al-Qaeda’s top man in Yemen,” Al-Monitor, February 5, 2021, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/02/qaeda-yemen-capture-leader-un.html. AQAP later dispelled reports of Batarfi’s arrest on February 10 with the release of a video featuring Batarfi called “America and the Painful Seizure.” In the video, Batarfi referred to the January 6, 2021, U.S. riot—during which protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.—and called it “just the tip of the iceberg.” “Yemen al-Qaeda leader’s video belies UN report of capture,” Arab Weekly, February 11, 2021, https://thearabweekly.com/yemen-al-qaeda-leaders-video-belies-un-report-capture. AQAP issued a statement on April 8, 2021, denying the earlier U.N. report of Batarfi’s arrest. AQAP further accused the United Nations of lying to the public and of bias toward the West.Bridget Johnson, “AQAP Calls UN Claim of Leader’s Arrest ‘Miserable Attempt to Wage a Psychological War,’” Homeland Security Today, April 12, 2021, https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/aqap-calls-un-claim-of-leaders-arrest-miserable-attempt-to-wage-a-psychological-war/.
The U.S. Department of State designated Khalid Batarfi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 23, 2018.“State Department Terrorist Designation of Khalid Batarfi,” U.S. Department of State, January 23, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/01/277593.htm.