By Sean Maroney
Radical cleric and wanted terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Friday in Yemen in what news reports say was a coordinated air strike by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Al-Awlaki was an American citizen who became a prominent al-Qaida figure and coordinated terror from Yemen hideouts.
Anwar al-Awlaki, the public face in the West of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is dead.
U.S. and Yemeni authorities hunted him for years, and on Friday, they got him, nearly five months after U.S. Special Forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama said al-Awlaki’s death is a major blow to the al-Qaida affiliate.
“He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009,” said Obama. “He directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010. And 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.”
The U.S.-born extremist had the rare distinction of being an American, approved for killing without trial by the U.S. government. In Yemen, he faced charges in connection to the death of a French oil industry worker.
Al-Awlaki was born in the U.S. in 1971 to Yemeni parents and later served as an imam in several U.S. mosques, including one frequented by two men involved in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001.
Analyst Amir Latif says al-Awlaki’s personality and his fluency in Arabic and English make his death a great loss for al-Qaida.
“When you have a person like Awlaki, who is taken out of the leadership, to replace an individual like that that has got that sort of appeal is very difficult to do,” noted Latif.
But while al-Awlaki was important, analyst Tom Sanderson says al-Qaida and Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) still remains a threat.
“This is a highly valuable development, but certainly not the end of Awlaki’s influence, not the end of AQAP and not the end of al-Qaida in the global sense,” said Sanderson.
Al-Awlaki attracted a loyal following over the Internet, ensuring his sermons on YouTube and other sites echo online long after his death.