by Florian Flade
US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki
Some have labeled him „the next Osama Bin Laden“ or „the Youtube Bin Laden – for the intelligence community in the West he was a pain in the arse: US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Since he moved to his ancestors homeland of Yemen in 2004 he spread Jihadi ideology over the internet using his own blog and internet forums to promote essays and theologicial publications legitimating Jihad, suicide bombings and terrorist attacks in the West.
Today Arab media is reporting that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in an airstrike in Yemen. Al-Arabiya TV quotes Yemeni officials as saying Awlaki traveled in a convoy in al-Jawf province near the Saudi-Arabian border when it was hit by Yemeni fighter jets. Awlaki and four Al-Qaida militants were killed, the Yemeni government source claims. A spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington D.C. tells CNN the alleged Al-Qaida affiliated cleric was killed near the town of Khashef, east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa on friday morning. CBS News reports a White House official says there is „high confidence“ that Anwar al-Awlaki was indeed killed today.
If true the death of Awlaki will have a quite significant impact on the Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and there ability to attract foreign Jihadis. Awlaki as a fluent English speaker and charismatic preacher had a appeal towards Western Jihadis and will not easily be replaced by other American members of AQAP like Samir Khan. Awlaki was important to AQAP not because he holds any leadership position within the organization but because of his propaganda value and the picture of him painted in Western media as one of the most dangerous terrorists desperately wanting to harm the United States.
Awlaki, who was born in Las Cruces (New Mexico) in 1971 and therefore holds a U.S. passport. The son of a Yemeni agricultural minister grew up in Yemen and the U.S. and was educated at American universities, rose the ranks of AQAP as soon as the Saudi Al-Qaida and its Yemeni counterpart merged in January 2009. He is said to have inspired Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hassan and adviced him to carry out a attack on US forces in an e-mail exchange. Awlaki also is seen as a key element in the recruitment and radicalization of the Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up a US airliner over Detroit Christmas 2009.
Earlier this year a Yemeni court sentenced Awlaki to ten years in prison because of his incitement to kill foreigners in Yemen. Numerous times U.S. and Yemeni forces tried to kill Awlaki in recent years. In May a U.S. drone strike missed the Al-Qaida cleric.
As there are contradicting reports about how and where exactely Anwar al-Awlaki was killed and the fact that U.S. officials are so quick confirming the terrorist´s death it is very likely Awlaki was killed either in a joint operation by the Yemeni and American forces or in a U.S. drone or airforce attack.