Osama bin Laden’s close associate and a top al-Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, has reportedly been killed in the mountains of Yemen. For those keeping track, that’s the scene of America’s largely unreported fourth war, where al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been trying to take over a tottering government, and we’ve been working with the Yemeni government to blow away as many terrorists as possible, as fast as we can.
Today we landed a big fish, as CNN reports:
The United States regards al-Awlaki, who was believed to be hiding in Yemen, as a terrorist and the biggest threat to its homeland security. Western intelligence officials believe al-Awlaki is a senior leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active al Qaeda affiliates.
Al-Awlaki was killed about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Yemeni town of Khashef, east of the capital city of Sanaa, Mohammed Basha, a Yemen Embassy spokesman in Washington, told CNN. Basha said the operation was launched at about 9:55 a.m. local time, though he did not say what type of operation was conducted or how al-Awlaki was killed.
A senior U.S. administration official confirmed al-Awlaki is dead, though no details surrounding the operation that led to the cleric’s death were released. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to CNN. The official was not authorized to release the information.
According to the BBC, “tribal sources” say Awlaki was killed in an air strike, while “an unnamed U.S. official” said it was a drone strike. His body is said to be in Yemeni hands, and his death was announced on local television.
The Beeb provides a summary of Awlaki’s resume, which included mentoring Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and the Underpants Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab:
Awlaki is described by US officials as a key leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
He has been implicated in the US army base killings in Fort Hood, Texas, the Christmas 2009 Detroit airline bomb attempt, and a failed bombing in New York’s Times Square.
AQAP also claimed to have been behind a plot which sent two bombs in printer cartridges on US-bound cargo planes. They were intercepted in the UK and Dubai.
When he was imam of a San Diego mosque in the 1990s, his sermons were attended by two future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
He also lived in the UK from 2002-04, where he spent several months giving lectures to Muslim youth.
In a video posted in November last year he called for the killing of Americans, saying they were from the “party of devils”.
Another Awlaki fun fact: he was part of an “outreach program” in the U.S., and spoke at the Pentagon in February 2002, even though the FBI was already sizing him up as part of the 9/11 plot. As CBS News reported last year:
Anwar al-Awlaki – the radical spiritual leader linked to several 9/11 attackers, the Fort Hood shooting, and the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner – was a guest at the Pentagon in the months after 9/11, a Pentagon official confirmed to CBS News.
Awlaki was invited as “…part of an informal outreach program” in which officials sought contact “…with leading members of the Muslim community,” the official said. At that time, Awlaki was widely viewed as a “moderate” imam at a mosque in Northern Virginia.
At the same time, the FBI was also interviewing Awlaki about his contacts with three of the 9/11 attackers – Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al Midhar and Hani Hanjour – who were all part of the crew of five that hijacked the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon.
Awlaki was born in the United States, in New Mexico to be exact. His father was in America to study agricultural economics, and would later become the agriculture minister of Yemen. The family returned to Yemen when Awlaki was still a child, but he returned to attend Colorado State University and San Diego State. He served as imam at mosques in San Diego, Denver, and Virginia before devoting himself full-time to al-Qaeda, a vocation that eventually made him the first American-born target to land on the CIA’s “kill or capture” list.
The Jerusalem Post puts Awlaki’s death into perspective:
One analyst said Awlaki’s killing would be more of a boon to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh than a loss for AQAP, seen as one of al-Qaida’s most aggressive and dynamic wings.
“For AQAP, these franchises are usually resilient. There are other capable leaders in AQAP who can fill his shoes,” said Theodore Karasik, security analyst for the Dubai based INEGMA group. “It’s a short step backwards which will likely result in more assertion in the future, for the revenge of his martydom.”
However, Awlaki, if his death is confirmed, may not be so easy for AQAP to replace. He may not be a very senior Islamic cleric, nor is he AQAP’s leader — that is Nasser al-Wuhayshi — but he ranks as its most gifted English-language propagandist. Britain’s intelligence chief John Sawers singled him out as a major threat with a global appeal in a speech last October.
“From his remote base in Yemen, al-Qaida leader and US national Anwar al-Awlaki broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the Internet,” he said.
The CIA doesn’t put people on the “kill or capture” list because they’re mildly annoying. The death of Anwar al-Awlaki seals off a major sewer pipe of evil, and brings a measure of justice to the many innocent people who died because he was so good at reaching out to murderers.
Update: Reports indicate that along with Awlaki, today’s strike in Yemen killed Samir Khan, editor of al-Qaeda’s magazine Inspire. Yes, al-Qaeda had a magazine. Among other things, it contained articles on how to make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.
Update: Fox News confirms that the CIA directed the strike that took out Awlaki. Garbage disposal was performed by two Predator drones firing Hellfire missiles into his convoy.