September 30, 2011
Official: U.S. drones fired missiles that killed U.S.-born cleric Awlaki
By Adam Baron and Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers
SANAA, Yemen — Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born Muslim preacher who became among the world's most wanted terrorist figures, was killed in Yemen, the Yemeni Defense Ministry announced Friday.
In a statement, the government said Awlaki was "targeted and killed" about 90 miles east of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. The "operation" was launched at around 9:55 a.m. local time, the statement said. It provided no other details.
But a senior U.S. official confirmed the death and said the attack had been conducted by “multiple” U.S. drones firing missiles. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior Pentagon official declined to discuss details of the attack. Drones flying over Yemen are operated by the CIA.
Also killed in the attack was a second American, Samir Khan, who was the editor of the English-language Al Qaida magazine "Inspire". Khan, who was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up in New York, moved to North Carolina with his family in 2004. He was known for a militant blog while he was a student at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.
Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, Awlaki was considered the public face of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni affiliate of the terrorist network, though his terrorist role is sharply disputed. Many analysts in the Middle East suggested that his greatest contribution to al Qaida was inspirational, not operational.
But U.S. officials quickly accused him of having taken a leading role in AQAP's operations.
Speaking at a retirement ceremony for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, President Barack Obama called Awlaki's death a "major blow to Al Qaida's most active operational affiliate."
He said that as "leader of external operations" for AQAP, Awlaki "took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans," charging that Awlaki directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009 and directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes in 2010.
"He repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda," Obama said. "The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaida."
A senior Defense Department official in Washington said Awlaki "wasn't simply a propagandist, but over the years had become an operational figure who was increasingly focused on planning and carrying out attacks against the United States and our allies."
"A very bad man just had a very bad day," said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "It's a good day, though, for American counterterrorism efforts."
Obama last year authorized the killing of Awlaki in an executive order. Awlaki is the only American citizen known to have been subject to such authorization.
Though he lacked substantial grounding in Islamic theology, Awlaki’s fluent English and technological savvy provided him with an audience few preachers could dream of.
Awlaki’s name is attached to at least four terror plots against American soil, most notably the November, 2009, shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 people dead. Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the shooting, had exchanged more than a dozen emails with Awlaki prior to the shootings.
He was also suspected of contacts with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber who attempted in December 2009 to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with an explosive device hidden in his pants. The bomb failed to explode.
But suspicions about Awlaki's ties to terrorism date to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Awlaki knew at least two of the 9/11 hijackers and had been a cleric at mosques where they worshiped in both San Diego and suburban Washington.
"He's a 9/11 loose end," Philip Zelikiow, the executive director of the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks, once told McClatchy. Zelikow added that one of his frustrations with the 9/11 investigation was its inability to determine what Awlaki's relationship was to 9/11 hijackers who turned up at Awlaki's mosques in San Diego and then again in Falls Church, Va.
Awlaki left the United States in 2002 after investigators began taking an interest in his 9/11 ties.
Awlaki’s death caps a string of major successes in the U.S. war on terrorism that began May 2, when U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In the months since, U.S. drone strikes have killed several key al Qaida-linked militants.
Landay reported from Washington. Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington.
Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/09/30/125728/us-born-cleric-anwar-al-awlaki.html#ixzz1ZSHy4J7y