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CIA-led drone attack in Yemen kills U.S.-born al-Qaida leader

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:26 p.m. HST, Sep 30, 2011

SANAA, Yemen » The killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and another American militant propagandist in a U.S. airstrike today wipes out the decisive factor that made al-Qaida's branch in Yemen the most dangerous threat to the United States: its reach into the West.

Issuing English-language sermons on jihad on the Internet from his hideouts in Yemen's mountains, al-Awlaki drew Muslim recruits like the young Nigerian who tried to bring down a U.S. jet on Christmas and the Pakistani-American behind the botched car bombing in New York City's Times Square.

The other American killed in the strike, Samir Khan, published a slick English-language Web magazine, "Inspire," that spouted al-Qaida's ideology of attacks on Westerners and even gave how-to manuals on how to carry one out — like an article titled, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."

Their voices elevated the several hundred al-Qaida fighters hiding out in Yemen into a greater threat than similar affiliates of the terror network in North Africa, Somalia or east Asia.

President Barack Obama heralded the drone strike today as a "major blow to al-Qaida's most active operational affiliate," saying the 40-year-old al-Awlaki was the group's "leader of external operations."

"In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans," Obama told reporters in Washington, saying al-Awlaki plotted the Christmas 2009 airplane bombing attempt and a foiled attempt in 2010 to mail explosives to the United States.

Al-Awlaki's death was the biggest success in the Obama administration's intensified campaign to take out al-Qaida's leadership since the May killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The pursuit of al-Awlaki and today's strike were directed by the same U.S. special unit that directed the Navy SEALs raid on bin Laden's hideout.

After three weeks of tracking the targets, U.S. armed drones and fighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki's convoy, before drones launched the lethal strike early today, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

Al-Awlaki and his comrades were moving through a desert region east of Yemen's capital near the village of Khasaf between mountain strongholds in the provinces of Jawf and Marib when the drone struck, U.S. and Yemeni officials said.

A tribal chief in the area told The Associated Press that the brother of one of those killed witnessed the strike. The brother, who had sheltered the group in his home nearby, said the group had stopped for breakfast in the desert and were sitting on the ground eating when they saw the drone approaching. They rushed to their truck to drive off when the missiles hit, incinerating the vehicle, according to the tribal chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be associated with the incident.

U.S. officials said two other militants were killed in the strike. But the tribal chief, who helped bury the bodies in a Jawf cemetery, said seven people were killed, including al-Awlaki, Khan, two midlevel Yemeni al-Qaida members, two Saudis and another Yemeni. The differing numbers could not immediately be reconciled.

Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents. had been in the U.S. cross-hairs since his killing was approved by Obama in April 2010 — making him the first American placed on the CIA "kill or capture" list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn't harmed.

In July, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said al-Awlaki was a priority target alongside Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's successor as the terror network's leader.

Bruce Riedel, a Brookings senior fellow and former CIA officer, cautioned that while al-Awlaki was the "foremost propagandist," for al-Qaida's Yemen branch, his death "doesn't really significantly change its fortunes."

Al-Qaida's branch "is intact and arguably growing faster than ever before because of the chaos in Yemen," he said.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the terror branch in Yemen is called, has been operating in Yemen for years, led by a Yemeni militant and former bin Laden aide named Nasser al-Wahishi. Its main goal has been the toppling of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and targeting the monarchy in neighboring Saudi Arabia, and its several hundreds militants have found refuge among tribes in Yemen's mountainous regions, where the Sanaa government has little control.

Amid the past seven months of political turmoil in Yemen, al-Qaida and other Islamic militants have gained even more of a foothold, seizing control of at least three towns and cities in the south and battling with the army.

Al-Wahishi placed major importance on propaganda efforts.

In the latest issue of Inspire, put out earlier this month, Khan — a U.S. citizen of Pakistani heritage — recounted meeting the Yemeni al-Qaida leader. "'Remember,' he said, as other mujahedeen were busy working on their computers in the background. 'The media work is half of the jihad'," Khan wrote.

Al-Awlaki gave the group its international voice.

He was young, fluent in English, well-acquainted with Western culture and with the discontent of young Muslims there. His numerous video sermons, circulated on YouTube and other sites, offered a measured political argument — interspersed with religious lessons — that the United States must be fought for waging wars against Muslims.

Downloads of his sermons were found in the laptops and computers of several groups arrested for plotting attacks in the United States and Britain.

Al-Awlaki exchanged up to 20 emails with U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of opening fire at the U.S. military base at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people, in a 2009 rampage. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by al-Awlaki's Internet sermons.

Al-Awlaki has said he didn't tell Hasan to carry out the shootings, but he later praised Hasan as a "hero" on his website.

In New York, the Pakistani-American who pleaded guilty to the May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt told interrogators he was "inspired" by al-Awlaki after making contact over the Internet.

But U.S. officials say al-Awlaki moved beyond being just a mouthpiece into a direct operational role in organizing such attacks as he hid alongside al-Qaida militants in the rugged mountains of Yemen.

Most notably, they believe he was involved in recruiting and preparing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up a U.S. airliner heading to Detroit on Christmas 2009, failing only because he botched the detonation of explosives sewn into his underpants.

Yemeni officials say they believe al-Awlaki and other al-Qaida leaders met with Abdulmutallab in a Yemen hideout in the weeks before the failed bombing. Al-Awlaki has said Abdulmutallab was his "student" but said he never told him to carry out the airline attack.

Al-Awlaki began as a mosque preacher as he conducted his university studies in the United States, and he was not seen by his congregations as radical. While preaching in San Diego, he came to know two of the men who would eventually become suicide-hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The FBI questioned al-Awlaki at the time but found no cause to detain him.

In 2004, al-Awlaki returned to Yemen, and in the years that followed, his English-language Internet sermons increasingly turned to denunciations of the United States and calls for jihad, or holy war. Since the Fort Hood attack, he has been on the run alongside al-Qaida militants.

U.S. terrorism expert Evan Kohlman said al-Awlaki's death doesn't affect al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's military capabilities. "The one area it makes a difference is, it limits the ability of AQAP to put out more English-language propaganda," at least in the short term.

"Al-Awlaki's greatest importance really is a recruiter for homegrown terrorism," he said. "There is no doubt he has provided assistance to recruiting people on behalf of AQAP."

But Kohlman noted that al-Awlaki's sermons and calls for jihad remain on the Web and "in some ways you could say they may be even more effective now because he has been martyred for his cause. ... That is a powerful lesson."

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Charliegrunt wrote:
The ACLU is a good example of an organization that began with a noble purpose and gone terribly awry, losing any credibility they may have had. They seem to be proposing that we put our military or intelligence personnel at risk to bring back a traitor, running with terrorists back for trial. Why don't they get volunteers from their organization to go get the traitors? Aren't the rest of you tired of these people sitting in their offices in their suits demanding that others place their lives at risk to bring back terrorists planning and killing Americans back for trial? As far as I'm concerned, the ACLU should be classified as a subversive organization.
on September 30,2011 | 07:05AM
Manapua_Man wrote:
The ACLU has lost its way. There's so much injustice done to good law abiding citizens in this country... and where is the ACLU stepping in to help these people?
on September 30,2011 | 07:15AM
wiliki wrote:
The ACLU steps in wherever and whenever it should. In this case, they have real concerns about due process, or whether the President can be both judge, jury and executioner.
on September 30,2011 | 08:26AM
Manapua_Man wrote:
These rats are traitors and deserve to be dealt with no mercy. How would you feel if one of your innocent loved ones fell victim to terrorism because of their treasonous actions?
on September 30,2011 | 12:11PM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Agree with you 100%. ACLU has lost its way.
on September 30,2011 | 07:21AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Agree 100% with Charliegrunt and Manapua_man. ACLU has lost credibitliy and focus. They're nothing but suits who are out of touch with America.
on September 30,2011 | 07:22AM
Anonymous wrote:
Next target, ACLU.
on September 30,2011 | 07:26AM
iwanaknow wrote:
Cut off the snakes head and two grow back.....yikes! We are doomed!
on September 30,2011 | 09:55AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
So Americans are flying weapons of war in a foreign country and killing other Americans without a trial? And we citizens are OK with that? What cowards we have become.
on September 30,2011 | 07:41AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
This happened in WWII when the US killed American citizens over in Germany who joined the nazis to fight against America. I vaguely recall that war was declared on alqaida so this would be the same circumstance. I'm fairly certain that this same situation occurred back in the war of 1812 and WWI. As a result, your post attempt to re-write history by using the phrase "we have become" because this action has been employed since the beginning of the country.
on September 30,2011 | 08:08AM
wiliki wrote:
You can equated collateral damage with intentional assassination. There's no comparison.
on September 30,2011 | 08:28AM
tsboy wrote:
we are cowards? cowards like al-Awlaki get idiots to blow themselves up in order to kill innocent civilians, and we are cowards? they hide out in the mountains or deserts and we are cowards? it doesn't matter if he is an American. he is a terrorist and therefore is not entitled to any rights. you kill him on sight. that is a law that they live by. its only right that it is a law that they die by.
on September 30,2011 | 01:05PM
mmcmssawnuc wrote:
I'm okay with it. The long arm of justice.
on September 30,2011 | 03:48PM
wiliki wrote:
This is a good argument to democratize the middle east because al-Awlaki became radicalized in foreign countries where their dictatorial govts are supported by American dollars. If we had been working on that as we have in fighting a war after it starts up, then we might not have had to deal with activists like al-Awaki who become radicalized because of horrific and unjust living conditions of the poor in these countries.
on September 30,2011 | 08:24AM
LemonySnickets wrote:
Yay Man!
on September 30,2011 | 11:09AM
808warriorfan wrote:
As a proud liberal I have this to say.....GOOD RIDDANCE TO THAT PIECE OF TRASH !!!!!! ..... Any more out there for our drones to launch missiles at ?????
on September 30,2011 | 12:29PM
kawika49 wrote:
You fatwah, us: I , fatwah you.
on September 30,2011 | 01:17PM
entrkn wrote:
... and another one bites the dust... make that and some more bite the dust... Hee Hee!
on September 30,2011 | 06:50PM
shaftalley wrote:
Al-Awlaki was a confirmed double agent.he was an americamcitizen who was assisinated by the US gov't. without any due process.no evidence.our gov't. was judge,jury and executioner.i read some of these posts cheering his assisination and it makes me want to puke.can't celibrate the gov't.'s abuse of power.president obama clearly went over the line.and he is a nobel peace winner???al-awaki,who was american born ,visited the pentagon and had dinner there with military officials after 9/11.he was a handler for the cia.and the underwear bomber incident was completly staged by us gov't.al-awlaki was a stooge for the fbi and canadian rcmp agents.
on September 30,2011 | 10:00PM
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