US born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed on Friday (September 30th) morning by a drone strike in northern Yemen, orchestrated by the US Central Intellegence Agency, according to the Yemeni Defence Ministry. US President Barack Obama authorised a request to target Awlaki in April 2010.
Awlaki, who is reportedly a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was wanted by both the US and Yemen for his suspected role in terrorist attacks — including the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of a US aircraft in Detroit and the killing of 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, a month earlier.
Also killed in the US drone strike was Samir Khan, a US citizen of Pakistani descent who specialised in computer programming, according to the ministry. The identities of two others killed in the strike have not been confirmed.
Awlaki’s death came as a result of a “big intelligence operation and co-operation between friends and brothers,” Yemeni government spokesperson Abdo al-Jundi told reporters.
The US government branded Awlaki a “global terrorist” last year, according to Reuters. He was the target of more than one assassination attempt due to the role he played in radicalising English-speaking Muslims and his alleged role in plots to attack US targets.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, served as an imam at mosques in California and suburban Washington, DC, before heading to Yemen in 2002. He was one of the main backbones of the terrorist groups’ emergence into the social networking arena.
With a blog, a Facebook page and numerous YouTube videos, he had increasingly been regarded by the US National Security Council as one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda leaders.
Online magazine Inspire, believed to be produced by al-Qaeda members in the AQAP, promised in its latest edition that there would be an upcoming article apparently written by Awlaki called “Targeting the Populations of Countries That Are at War With the Muslims”.
Obama called Awlaki’s death a “major blow” to one of al-Qaeda’s most active affiliates.
“The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. …This is further proof that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said at a ceremony Friday honouring the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The operation has, however, raised questions about the role of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has refused to give up power despite protests against his regime. Some protest leaders say the US and Saudi Arabia’s priority in fighting al-Qaeda has redirected diplomatic pressure needed to force the president from power.