The Associated Press reports:
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamic militant cleric who became a prominent figure in al-Qaida’s most active branch, using his fluent English and Internet savvy to draw recruits to carry out attacks in the United States, was killed Friday in the mountains of Yemen, American and Yemeni officials said.
The Yemeni government and Defense Ministry announced al-Awlaki’s death, but gave no details. A senior U.S. official said American intelligence supports the claim that he had been killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Yemeni security officials and local tribal leaders said the was killed in an airstrike on his convoy that they believed was carried out by the Americans. They said pilotless drones had been seen over the area in previous days.
Al-Awlaki would be the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden’s death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May. In July, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Yemeni-American was a priority target alongside Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s successor as the terror network’s leader.
The 40-year-old al-Awlaki had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Barack Obama in April 2010 – making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn’t harmed.
Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, was believed to be key in turning al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen into what American officials have called the most significant and immediate threat to the Untied States. The branch, led by a Yemeni militant named Nasser al-Wahishi, plotted several failed attacks on U.S. soil – the botched Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up an American airliner heading to Detroit and a foiled 2010 attempt to main explosives to Chicago.
Great news if true, but we’ve seen reports like this before that have turned out to be premature or incorrect (Gadahn, Kashmir, etc), so stay tuned.
Also note that it was Obama who elevated al Awlaki’s status while failing to remove his primary works from circulation on Youtube and other sites. And as we’ve noted before, whenever Obama faces domestic challenges that send his approval ratings continually lower, an al Qaeda threat or target becomes headline news. Coincidence?
via Financial Times: “US confirms al-Qaeda leader’s death”
Nigel Inkster, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “If Awlaki has been killed this would be symbolically quite important. But a lot of people misreport Awlaki as a terrorist genius. He is more of an ideologue and his influence has been in ideological domains and in animating young Muslims and rallying them to the cause and promoting the message.”
Primarily via Google-owned Youtube and web-based jihadi forums – outlets few, if any, have addressed seriously. So while al Awlaki may be gone, videos spreading his ideological message remain.
Update: More on the govt’s legal position on the killing via WAPO, Secret U.S. memo sanctioned killing of Aulaqi
President Obama and various administration officials referred to Aulaqi publicly for the first time Friday as the “external operations” chief for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a label that may be intended to underscore his status as an operational leader who posed an imminent threat.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. The administration officials refused to disclose the exact legal analysis used to authorize targeting Aulaqi, or how they considered any Fifth Amendment right to due process.