DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s regional wing in Yemen has threatened the United States with more attacks should any harm come to a U.S.-born radical cleric wanted dead or alive by Washington, according to an audio tape posted online on Sunday.
U.S. officials said in April President Barack Obama’s administration had authorized operations to capture or kill Anwar al-Awlaki — a leading figure linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen wing, which claimed responsibility for a failed bombing of a Detroit-bound plane in December.
“That was a failure but tell me, what will success be like,” the wing’s leader Nasser al-Wahayshi said in an audio tape which appeared on a website often used by Islamic militants.
“It will inevitably be a disaster for you (Americans), for we are enamored with the attacks of September 11,” he said.
Yemen-based Awlaki has said he had contacts with a Nigerian suspect in the attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound plane and with a U.S. army psychiatrist accused of shooting dead 13 people at a military base in Texas in November.
Born in New Mexico, Awlaki led prayers at U.S. mosques. He returned to Yemen in 2004 where he taught at a university before he was arrested and imprisoned in 2006 for suspected links to al Qaeda and involvement in attacks. Awlaki was released in December 2007 after he was said to have repented.
“The threats of the United States do not frighten us ... Muslims, do not worry about the sheikh (Awlaki), he is in safe hands,” Wahayshi said.
Western countries fear that al Qaeda’s resurgent regional wing, called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is exploiting instability in Yemen, an impoverished country bordering oil giant Saudi Arabia, to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
Last month, the group tried to assassinate the British ambassador to Yemen when a suicide bomber threw himself into the path of the convoy taking Tim Torlot to work in the capital Sanaa.
The envoy was unharmed and only the suicide bomber died, but the bold hit signaled that a recent crackdown by Sanaa on the global militant group has done little to curb its ambitions to carry out attacks on international targets.
Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Jon Boyle