SANAA, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Yemen's defense ministry said Monday its armed forces killed deputy leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Saeed Ali al-Shihri, in a raid in the southeast province of Hadramout.
"Saeed Ali al-Shihri, a Saudi national and deputy leader of the Yemen-based AQAP was killed Monday along with six of his al-Qaida bodyguards in a special military raid carried out by the Yemeni armed forces in Wadi area of Hadramout province," the ministry said in a brief statement on its website Monday.
The AQAP has yet issued a statement to confirm al-Shihri's death.
The Saudi fugitive has become the deputy of AQAP's top leader Naser al-Wahaishi since the Yemeni and Saudi terrorist wings merged in 2009.
Al-Shihri had served a prison term in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamu before he was deported to the Saudi Arabia, where he fled to Yemen along with other hundreds of Saudi wanted militants to join the AQAP.
The AQAP, known locally as Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), took advantage of the last year political upheaval to take over several towns in the country's southern restive regions.
The militants were recently either captured or killed by the Yemeni security authorities after a U.S.-backed offensive launched in the southern Abyan province three months ago routed the militants out of their strongholds that they had controlled for nearly a year.
However, local military and anti-terrorism experts said the Yemen-based al-Qaida branch is still posing a major threat to the impoverished Arab country despite its being driven out of its main bastions by the U.S.-backed military assault.
The United states and neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia have beefed up anti-terror cooperation with the Yemeni government since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, after a year of political upheaval that allowed the AQAP to capture several cities in southern Yemen.
Yemen's southern and eastern provinces most frequently witness increasing U.S. drone strikes targeting al-Qaida militants.
Combating al-Qaida network in Yemen remains one of the biggest challenges confronting Hadi, who has promised to reform the army, restore security and uproot the resurgent AQAP.