Seven years ago this month, al Qaeda in Yemen was on its last legs, worn down by years of U.S. and Yemeni strikes. The group's original leader, Abu Ali al-Harithi, was dead, the target of a November 2002 strike by an unmanned CIA drone.
His replacement, an amputee named Muhammad Hamdi al-Ahdal, fared little better. One year after the death of his boss, the veteran of the fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya was presiding over an organization in disarray. Like a general without an army, al-Ahdal was out of options. In November 2003, he was tracked down to a safe house on the outskirts of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. A last-minute mediator from the president's office prevented a shootout in the residential neighborhood, convincing al-Ahdal to surrender. Just like that, the threat had been eliminated. Al Qaeda in Yemen was defeated.
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