By Arab News
US President Barack Obama has called the killing in Yemen of Anwar Al-Awlaki — one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — a “major blow” to the organization. He is spot on. Al-Qaeda can replace leaders but in this case not one with the particular skills he had. Born in the US, the charismatic Al-Awlaki’s particular skill was to appeal to alienated Muslims in the English-speaking world. He conveyed the Al-Qaeda message in a way they understood. Through his DVDs and the Internet, he had a major impact on radical English-speaking would-be jihadis across the world. It will be extremely difficult to find someone else who can so deftly recruit them to the ranks.
In as much as that has happened, there will be countless millions across the Muslim world who, while deeply antipathetical to the US over its slavish obedience to Israel, will pardon this particular action. Al-Awlaki preached Al-Qaeda’s message of hatred and death — a message that has done more to damage the image of Islam and its message of peace than anything in living memory.
It is typical, though, of American society that there should now be anguish as to whether Al-Awlaki, as an American citizen, should have been targeted and killed. The American Civil Liberties Union says the killing violates the US and international law and condemns it because there had been no due judicial process.
A government’s duty is to uphold the law, but its prime duty is to protect its citizens. It is rare that the two conflict but when they do, the law must take second place to protection. This was such a case. Al-Awlaki had declared war on the US through the Internet. On his website, he called on Muslims to kill American soldiers anywhere in the world; he said it was an Islamic duty. In e-mails he encouraged US Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, to kill US soldiers; Hasan gunned down 13 at Ft. Hood in November 2009. The list of those with those for whom he was a spiritual guide and who carried out attacks is long. Last year he called on American Muslims to attack the US. Al-Awlaki’s target was not only Americans who, he said, had to be killed “without hesitation.” He targeted Arab governments as well.
In such rare cases, the demand for due judicial process by the likes of the ACLU is morally vacuous. Someone who plots to kill has to be stopped. Otherwise he will succeed. In such circumstances, those who insist that nothing be done until his criminal plans are proven in court are complicit in his crimes. They effectively enable him to proceed. They care more about legalities, not about saving lives. It was perfectly legitimate to target Al-Awlaki.
There is, however, another perhaps far more significant aspect to this killing. It does not seem to be the result of information gathered from the similar killing at the beginning of May of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The information appears to have come from the Yemeni authorities. Is it a coincidence then that it happened just after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to his country? Was the information passed by him to send a desperate message to Obama that he needs him in power in Sanaa? There will be many who believe that is so.