According to several news outlets, Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico born evangelist of terrorism, was killed in an attack on his convoy traveling through the interior of Yemen. This news is breaking between 0600 and 0800 (Eastern Time). More here as more is known or claimed-to-be-known.
Yemen’s defence ministry has reported that Anwar al-Awlaki, a well-known and controversial imam with ties to al-Qaeda, was killed along with four others. A government statement released to the media on Friday said the dual US-Yemeni citizen was hunted down by Yemeni forces, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of his death. Awlaki was wanted by both the US and Yemen.”The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions,” said the statement sent by text message to journalists.
Tribal sources told the AFP news agency that Awlaki was killed early on Friday in an air strike that hit two vehicles travelling through an al-Qaeda stronghold in central Yemen. Government officials say he was targeted 8km from the town of Khashef in the province of al-Jawf, just 140km from Sanaa.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and an alleged terror suspect with links to al Qaeda in Yemen, has been killed, a senior administration official confirmed to POLITICO… The U.S. government has called al-Awlaki a “key leader” of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen. The U.S. has linked al-Awlaki to Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people in a shooting at a U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, and to a Nigerian student known as the “underwear bomber,” who tried to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. Last year, the Obama administration put the U.S.-born al-Awlaki on a CIA “kill or capture” list.
Yemeni security forces said they had conducted an operation to target Awlaki and his bodyguards in Marib province. Western sources said a US drone strike had hit his convoy in a remote area and that local military commanders had confirmed his death.
President Barack Obama authorised the US military to target Awlaki last year, a controversial and legally fraught move in light of his US citizenship. Awlaki had inspired serval audacious attacks in recent years including the 2009 Christmas underwear bomber, an attack in Fort Hood military base by a US army major and the stabbing of Stephen Timms MP.
One tribal chief in the area of the attack said that the plane that carried out the strike was likely to be American, adding that US aircraft had been patrolling the skies over Marib for the past several days.“US planes have been flying overhead for days now,” said the tribal source would requested anonymity. “Then this morning, at about 9:30, what appeared to be a US aircraft fired on the two cars Awlaqi and his fellow operatives are believed to have been travelling in.”
Last week the Washington Post reported:
The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen… The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which U.S. officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.
The use of drones in such targeted attacks was also a significant element in a recent speech by John Brennan, given attention in a previous Homeland Security Watch post.
Born of Yemeni parents in the United States, Mr. Awlaki has been a charismatic communicator of the Al Qaeda message. He is (was?) among the most prominent of a new generation of terrorist leaders, with particular influence among English-speaking converts to Al Qaeda’s cause. Especially since the death of Osama bin-Laden many considered Awlaki — and the Yemen based Al Qaeda franchise — as the most serious emergent threat. As noted above, Awlaki has been directly connected to several cases of domestic radicalization in the United States. He is considered the founder and has been a regular contributor to Inspire, the English-language web-based terrorist magazine.
Awlaki’s death is not necessarily significant to ongoing insurgent operations by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But if Nasser al-Wahishi’s killing in late August is ultimately confirmed, losing these two leaders in such a short span of time suggests the intensity of the US effort in Yemen… even in the midst of the current civil unrest.
Writing in The Guardian, Jason Burke offers:
Awlaki’s primary role was that of an intermediary. He communicated the message and the ideology of extremist Islam. That message remains alive even if it has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. After a decade of polarising violent conflicts, its survival is now independent of the actions of individuals. The social movement of al-Qaida, the cult of violent extremism, the sub-culture of jihad, has sufficient momentum to continue to be effective. The educated Yemeni-American who himself straddled the cultural gaps between the Middle East and the west and who turned to extremism will now join the ranks of al-Qaida’s martyrs. He is thus likely to be an inspiration long after his death.
In an interesting coincidence, exactly one year ago today Homeland Security Watch posted: Killing a Fellow Citizen: Four frames on the present reality of Anwar al-Awlaki. This was one of several posts regarding Mr. Awlaki toward the end of September and beginning of October. Even while I hope the news of his death is accurate, the issues raised in the posts and comments from a year ago remain relevant.
The Washington Post is periodically updating its lead on Alwaki’s death. According to the Post a second — unnamed — US citizen was also killed in the attack.
The New York Times is also adding to its coverage as additional information is available. According to the Times the second individual killed is, “Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin and the editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. Mr. Khan proclaimed in the magazine last yeasr that he was “pround (sic) to be a traitor to America.” (I don’t know if the sic is a NYT error or an Inspire error.)
Unless something especially interesting or odd emerges, I will let the mainstream media handle it from here. Any of the links embedded above will take you to even more news and analysis.
Friday Evening Addition:
During a Friday late morning change-of-office ceremony for the new Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, the President commented on Alwaki’s killing:
The death of al-Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. Furthermore, this success is a tribute to our intelligence community, and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces, who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years.
Awlaki and his organization have been directly responsible for the deaths of many Yemeni citizens. His hateful ideology — and targeting of innocent civilians — has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, and people of all faiths. And he has met his demise because the government and the people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a dangerous — though weakened — terrorist organization. And going forward, we will remain vigilant against any threats to the United States, or our allies and partners. But make no mistake: This is further proof that al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.
Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans, and to build a world in which people everywhere can live in greater peace, prosperity and security.
In the near term, Awlaki’s death is likely to increase interest in Inspire magazine, his online sermons, and other artifacts of his terrorist promotion. But especially with the apparent demise of Samir Khan as well, there is no one on the Al Qaeda bench as proficient in mixing anger, aspiration, hate, and hope into such deadly temptation.