DUBAI (Reuters) - A U.S.-born radical cleric linked to shootings at a U.S. army base and the failed bombing of a U.S. plane appeared to urge Muslims to conduct a jihad against the United States in an audiotape heard on Thursday.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said in late February they were considering adding Anwar al-Awlaki to the U.S. target list to kill or capture top militants if he appeared to pose a direct security threat. He is believed to be living in southern Yemen.
“To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters?” the audiotape said.
CNN, which said on its website it had obtained the tape exclusively, said it could not authenticate the recording but cited sources saying they believe the voice on the tape is his. It also outlines Awlaki’s own path to radicalism.
“I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad (holy struggle) against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding upon every other able Muslim,” Awlaki said on the tape, clips of which were posted on CNN’s website.
Awlaki was reported as saying early in February he had taught the Nigerian suspect in the December 25 attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound plane and supported his actions but had not ordered the attack.
U.S. officials say Awlaki also had links to a U.S. Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a Texas base in November.
Western allies and neighboring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability in impoverished Yemen to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.
Awlaki, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent, returned to Yemen in 2004 where he taught at a university before he was arrested in 2006 for suspected links to al Qaeda and involvement in attacks.
He was released in 2007 because he said he had repented, a Yemeni security official said. But he was later charged again and went into hiding.
In December, a Yemeni security official said Awlaki may have been one of 30 militants including top two leaders of al Qaeda’s Yemen arm killed in an air raid in Shabwa province in southeast Yemen.
He later resurfaced. In January, a local government source in Shabwa said officials were in talks with tribal sheikhs to try to persuade him to surrender, or be taken by force.
In late February, U.S. counterterrorism officials said U.S. spy agencies believed Awlaki to have played a bigger role than first thought in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s decision to start launching attacks against U.S. targets.
Born in New Mexico in the United States in 1971, Awlaki graduated in civil engineering from Colorado State University. His family is well-known in Yemen, where his father was a former agriculture minister.
Awlaki is also a former imam of mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia. Two of those mosques were attended by some of the September 11, 2001 hijackers.
“I lived in the U.S. for 21 years,” the tape said. “America was my home. I was a preacher of Islam involved in non-violent Islamic activism. However with the American invasion of Iraq and continued U.S. aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the U.S. and being a Muslim.”\
Editing by Jason Benham and Philippa Fletcher