Drone strike ends long hunt for U.S.-born Awlaki

WASHINGTON Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:39pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, during remarks at Ft. Meyer in Virginia September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, during remarks at Ft. Meyer in Virginia September 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen on Friday by a U.S. drone strike is the culmination of two years of extensive U.S. efforts to track down the American-born member of al Qaeda and put him out of action.

Awlaki, identified by U.S. intelligence as "chief of external operations" for al Qaeda's Yemen branch and a Web-savvy propagandist for the Islamist cause, was killed in an attack by missiles fired from multiple CIA drones in a remote Yemeni town, U.S. officials said.

Among three other people killed in the attack, a U.S. official said, was Samir Khan, another American who turned to militancy and served as editor of "Inspire," a glossy magazine used as a propaganda and recruitment vehicle by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Yemen-based group is deemed by U.S. officials to be one of al Qaeda's most dangerous offshoots.

A U.S. official described the other two people killed in the attack as "unidentified associates" of Awlaki and Khan.

President Barack Obama hailed the Awlaki strike as "another significant milestone" in efforts to defeat al Qaeda and proof that it and its allies will find no safe haven. "The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda's most active operational affiliate," Obama said.

U.S. officials said that Awlaki had been a subject of intense interest from American and other counter-terrorism agencies at least since late 2009, when he was implicated in two serious incidents directed at American targets.

An official said that Awlaki and AQAP also were responsible for "numerous terrorist attacks" in Yemen and nearby countries in which "scores of Muslims" died. A European official said Awlaki was also implicated in at least two British counter-terrorism investigations, one of which involved an employee of British Airways.

A U.S. official said that despite extensive and continuing civil turmoil in Yemen, "The Yemeni government's counterterrorism program has remained strong." Other U.S. officials said that during the last several years in which political disorder has reigned, the U.S. has stepped up unilateral efforts to collect intelligence and conduct counter-terrorism operations in Yemen.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The U.S. now has access to facilities in nearby countries including Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and the Seychelles from which it can launch drones and ground-based intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, a U.S. official said. This helps explain why U.S. intelligence collection efforts in Yemen have remained productive despite political upheaval there.

U.S. forces had conducted at least two earlier operations against Awlaki in Yemen, including an unsuccessful drone attack four days after the May 1 raid during which U.S. commandos killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden at his hide-out in Pakistan.

"This was a terrorist who wasn't simply a propagandist, but over the years had become an operational figure who was increasingly focused on planning and carrying out attacks against the United States and our allies," a senior U.S. defense official said. "A very bad man just had a very bad day."


The U.S. government branded Awlaki a "global terrorist" last year. He had earlier been targeted by U.S. forces authorized to kill him because of what Washington believed was the role he played in radicalizing English-speaking Muslims and because of his alleged role in plots to attack U.S. targets.

Awlaki was implicated in at least two major U.S. incidents in 2009. Following the shooting attack on soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas, in which U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan has been charged, investigators found evidence that Hasan had been in e-mail contact with Awlaki.

U.S. investigators also believe there was contact between Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian-born militant who studied Arabic in Yemen and has been charged with a failed attempt to attack a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, 2009, with a bomb hidden in his underpants. Awlaki was also linked to a plot last year to bomb cargo planes headed for the United States.

In the wake of the underpants incident, U.S. agencies were authorized to kill Awlaki if he could be found. U.S. officials said at the time Awlaki was the first American citizen to be targeted for possible U.S. killing since al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

The targeting of a U.S. citizen raised concerns among civil libertarians about extra-judicial killings, however. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law."

At Dar al Hiraj Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, where Awlaki served as imam, Mohammad Aslam, who attends services at the mosque, said, "Killing here or anywhere in the world is not (a) right thing. Whoever does something wrong, you know, it is supposed to be, catch him and face ... the justice."

It was unclear whether Awlaki's killing would ease strains between the Obama administration and embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is clinging to power despite months of popular protests, factional violence and international pressure.

The White House has repeatedly called on Saleh to relinquish power and start a democratic transition.

Obama did say that Yemen's cooperation in the drone strike showed that "the government and people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against al Qaeda."

U.S. intelligence officials have said al Qaeda has been severely debilitated by the loss of some of its top leaders.

In Washington, lawmakers praised the killing of Awlaki.

U.S. Representative Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, called it "a great success in our fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates."

"The killing of al-Awlaki is a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community," King, a Republican, said. But he said the United States must remain vigilant.

(Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan, Deborah Charles in Washington, Malathi Nayak in Fort Myer, Virginia; Editing by Warren Strobel and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (3)
GalacticCat wrote:
“I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”
- G.W. Bush, 3/13/02
“I am truly not that concerned about him.”
- G.W. Bush, repsonding to a question about bin Laden’s whereabouts,
3/13/02 (The New American, 4/8/02)

Sep 30, 2011 2:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Butch_from_PA wrote:
Well done!

I guess all that video game playing is paying off for the new Army recruits.

The USA took a decade to catch up to low cost guerrilla war fare. They have and are now using Al-Quaeda mouth pieces as target practice.

Drag your nets across the social media to pick up the recruiters and potential planners – test their validity with intelligence, then send over a GPS target to the army games room.

Wonder if a drone with the engine turned off is as silent as an owl sweeping in for a kill. I once got started by an owl coming in over my back, targeting my dog one evening. You cannot hear anything at all and only see it after it’s past you.

Another one bites the dust.

Sep 30, 2011 5:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:
This was an assassination and the White House is using the tactics of the “terrorists” against them. It almost sounds like justice.

How does that make the assassin any different? It has labeled an extreme political and philosophical point of view as similar to a disease that dare not be permitted to spread, not ever be permitted a time before a court.

Not even McCarthy got that extreme. There were people during the cold war that would have wanted nothing better than to incinerate the USSR, but calmer heads prevailed.

BTW – have there been any new detainees in either Guantanamo or any of rendition sites? Or are any “terrorists”, whoever or by whatever criteria they are defined, now being exterminated on sight? The Nazis and organized crime got/get better treatment in courts of law. Did the world get more strung out – less self-reflecting? The Nazis controlled states but organized crime doesn’t (not officially).

The powers that be always want extraordinary powers and somehow I think the extremists win. They will leave a very permanent stain. Industrialized and very profitable warfare light that can be enjoyed with the morning news doesn’t have to be too precise or bother to draw too many distinctions. It is too taxing to worry about the fine points. Did the attack have a positive effect on the market?

But the Constitution has too many pages doesn’t it? I’ll never understand all the case law that has evolved with it. There are at least 2000 pages online as it is. And that doesn’t include the cases referenced in the references. This is not likely to be one of them. But it doesn’t matter nearly as much what the “terrorists” believe as it does what the system that claims it has legitimacy believes and how it acts.

So I’m old and tired, and probably won’t have to live is the brave(ish) new world much longer. So what the hell, why not agree? They zapped another enemy whatever like it was a bug? I am a junkie of these stories and I never heard of him. I can’t tell their names apart (especially the two “Z’s), But I don’t believe for a minute that it means the end of so called “terrorism”. It doesn’t make the government any more respectable and in fact it becomes more of a terrorist itself. I’m not at all sure what the definition of a “militant”, “insurgent”, “rebel”, or even “Terrorist” actually is. They are all far too handy an excuse ever to retire to the dustbin of history and it is even a vicarious sport for engendering “moral” among the who’s at home. The dustbin of history knows full well that all the losers and winners sooner or later join each other in it. It’s just a little blood for the dogs of war, isn’t it? They were both more dangerous deer – right ButchfromPA?

The expression is “All’s fair in love and war”. Loves and War can both become disasters. In fact, they have a very high casualty rate. Doesn’t anyone believe is restraint and some real self-control? I don’t think mercenaries are known for their patience. It means that neither side believes there are no holds barred. And if that were the case, why would anyone believe the open-ended war on terror would ever end? I can’t imagine that the economic opportunities are any better now in the ME than they were or that AQ has fewer items on its list of complaints and opportunities? I thought the whole business entered the annals of fraud the day the coalition of the bribed and seduced invaded Iraq. And it never looks any better. It certainly gave AQ an excuse to franchise.

Isn’t it odd that a man who was located well enough to target with assassination could not have also been captured? I still don’t understand why Pakistan was not invited to the party at the home of OBL and asked to explain, on the spot, the “situation”. Do the boys really have to have an opportunity to play with their toys? And then they broke it and had to litter his yard with it and at the risk of losing their stealth weapon?

Obama is pandering and doesn’t blush at murder to get his votes. Somehow he’s got to prove success and notorious targeted assassinations seem to do the trick.

Or the disease is terrifying the doctors?

Sep 30, 2011 11:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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