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Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2008.
|Born||Anwar bin Nasser bin Abdulla al-Aulaqi|
April 21, 1971 (UPI gives April 22)
Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 2011 (aged 40)|
al-Jawf Governorate, Yemen
Cause of death
|Citizenship||U.S. and Yemen (dual)|
|Alma mater||Colorado State University (B.S.)|
George Washington University
|Occupation||Lecturer, former imam, Inspire magazine|
|Organization||Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula|
|Known for||Alleged senior al-Qaeda|
recruiter and spokesman
|Parents||Nasser al-Awlaki (father)|
Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2008.
|Born||Anwar bin Nasser bin Abdulla al-Aulaqi|
April 21, 1971 (UPI gives April 22)
Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 2011 (aged 40)|
al-Jawf Governorate, Yemen
Cause of death
|Citizenship||U.S. and Yemen (dual)|
|Alma mater||Colorado State University (B.S.)|
George Washington University
|Occupation||Lecturer, former imam, Inspire magazine|
|Organization||Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula|
|Known for||Alleged senior al-Qaeda|
recruiter and spokesman
|Parents||Nasser al-Awlaki (father)|
Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled al-Aulaqi, al-Awlaqi; Arabic: أنور العولقي Anwar al-‘Awlaqī; April 21, 1971 – September 30, 2011) was an American and Yemeni imam and Islamic militant. U.S. government officials said that he was a senior talent recruiter and motivator who was involved in planning terrorist operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. With a blog, a Facebook page, the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, and many YouTube videos, the Saudi news station Al Arabiya described him as the "bin Laden of the Internet." After a request from the U.S. Congress, in November 2010 YouTube removed many of Awlaki's videos. However, Awlaki's influence continues to be apparent amongst Islamists in the west and internationally, and his statements, articles and lectures are regularly cited and used as inspiration by extremists in the West and worldwide. 
U.S. officials say that as imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia (2001–02), which had 3,000 members, al-Awlaki spoke with and preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers, who were al-Qaeda members. In 2001, he presided at the funeral of the mother of Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who later e-mailed him extensively in 2008–09 before the Fort Hood shootings. During al-Awlaki's later radical period after 2006–07, when he went into hiding, he was associated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted the 2009 Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner. Al-Awlaki was allegedly involved in planning the latter's attack.
The Yemeni government began trying him in absentia in November 2010, for plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda. A Yemeni judge ordered that he be captured "dead or alive." U.S. officials said that in 2009, al-Awlaki was promoted to the rank of "regional commander" within al-Qaeda. He repeatedly called for jihad against the United States.
In April 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama placed al-Awlaki on a list of people whom the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to kill because of terrorist activities. The "targeted killing" of an American citizen was unprecedented. Al-Awlaki's father and civil rights groups challenged the order in court. Al-Awlaki was believed to be in hiding in Southeast Yemen in the last years of his life. The U.S. deployed unmanned aircraft (drones) in Yemen to search for and kill him, firing at and failing to kill him at least once, before succeeding in a fatal American drone attack in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Two weeks later, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver, was killed by a CIA-led drone strike in Yemen. Nasser al-Awlaki, Anwar's father, released an audio recording condemning the killings of his son and grandson as senseless murders.
Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico in the United States in 1971 to parents from Yemen, while his father was doing graduate work at U.S. universities. His father, Nasser al-Awlaki, was a Fulbright Scholar who earned a master's degree in agricultural economics at New Mexico State University in 1971, received a doctorate at the University of Nebraska, and worked at the University of Minnesota from 1975 to 1977. Nasser al-Awlaki served as Agriculture Minister and as President of Sana'a University. He was a prominent member of then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling party. Yemen's Prime Minister from 2007 to 2011, Ali Mohammed Mujur, was a relative of al-Awlaki.
In 1991, al-Awlaki returned to the U.S. state of Colorado to attend college. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994), where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. He attended the university on a foreign student visa and a government scholarship from Yemen, claiming to be born in that country, according to a former U.S. security agent. He spent a summer of his college years training with the Afghan mujahideen.
Al-Awlaki also studied Education Leadership at San Diego State University, though he never completed his degree there. He worked on a doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development from January to December 2001.
Al-Awlaki's Islamic education was primarily informal, and consisted of intermittent months with various scholars (including the Salafi teacher ibn Uthaymeen), reading and contemplating works by several prominent Islamic scholars. Some Muslim scholars said they did not understand al‑Awlaki's popularity, because while he spoke fluent English and could therefore reach a large non-Arabic-speaking audience, he lacked formal Islamic training and study.
Awlaki was said to have developed an animosity towards the U.S. and became a proponent of Takfiri and Jihadi thinking, while retaining Islamism. While imprisoned in Yemen after 2004, al-Awlaki became influenced by the works of Sayyid Qutb, an originator of the contemporary "anti-Western Jihadist movement". He read 150–200 pages a day of Qutb's works, and described himself as "so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly".
He later became noted for attracting young men to his lectures, especially U.S.-based and U.K.-based Muslims. Terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann in 2009 referred to al-Awlaki as "one of the principal jihadi luminaries for would-be homegrown terrorists. His fluency with English, his unabashed advocacy of jihad and mujahideen organizations, and his Web-savvy approach are a powerful combination." He called al-Awlaki's lecture, "Constants on the Path of Jihad", which he says was based on a similar document written by al-Qaeda's founder, the "virtual bible for lone-wolf Muslim extremists". Philip Mudd, formerly of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and the FBI's top intelligence adviser, called him "a magnetic character … a powerful orator."
U.S. officials and some U.S. media sources called al-Awlaki an Islamic fundamentalist and accused him of encouraging terrorism. According to documents recovered from Bin Laden's hideout, the Al-Qaeda leader was unsure about al-Awlaki's qualifications.
Soon after his return to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college, al-Awlaki applied for a Social Security number, falsely giving his birthplace as Yemen rather than the U.S.
In 1993, while still a college student in Colorado State's civil engineering program, al-Awlaki visited Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation. He was depressed by the country's poverty and hunger, and "wouldn't have gone with al-Qaeda," according to friends from Colorado State, who said he was profoundly affected by the trip. At the time of his visit, much of Afghanistan was under the control of various Mujahideen factions, and the U.S. also supported the defeat of the Russians there. Mullah Mohammed Omar did not form the Taliban until 1994. When Awlaki returned to campus, he showed increased interest in politics and religion, and quoted from the prominent Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam, who provided theological justification for the Afghan jihad. Azzam was later said to influence Osama bin Laden.
In 1994, Awlaki married a cousin from Yemen, and began service as a part-time imam of the Denver Islamic Society, where he preached "eloquently against vice and sin." In 1996, he was chastised by an elder for encouraging a Saudi student to fight in Chechnya against the Russians. He left Denver soon after, moving to San Diego.
From 1996–2000, al-Awlaki served as imam of the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque at the edge of San Diego, California, where he had a following of 200–300 people. U.S. officials would later allege that Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who became the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, attended his sermons and met personally with Awlaki during this period. Hazmi later lived in Northern Virginia and attended Awlaki's mosque there. The 9/11 Commission Report said that the hijackers "reportedly respected [al-Awlaki] as a religious figure". While in San Diego, al-Awlaki was known for the time he spent with youth, for his interest in fishing, for his discussions of travels with friends, and for a popular and lucrative series of lectures that he recorded.
In August 1996 and in April 1997, al-Awlaki was arrested in San Diego and charged with soliciting prostitutes. In the first instance, he pled guilty to a lesser charge on condition of entering an AIDS education program, and paying $400 in fines and restitution. The second time, he pled guilty to soliciting a prostitute, and was sentenced to three years' probation, fined $240, and ordered to perform 12 days of community service.
In 1998 and 1999, he served as vice-president for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW). Years later in 2004, the FBI testified that this group was a "front organization to funnel money to terrorists". Though the FBI investigated Awlaki from June 1999 through March 2000 for possible links to Hamas, the Bin Laden contact Ziyad Khaleel, and a visit by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, it did not find sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution.[why?] Al-Awlaki told reporters that he resigned from leading the San Diego mosque "after an uneventful four years," and took a brief sabbatical, traveling overseas to various countries.
In January 2001 after returning to the US, al-Awlaki settled on the East Coast in the Washington Metropolitan Area. There, he served as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque near Falls Church, Virginia, serving Muslims in Northern Virginia. He also led academic discussions frequented by FBI Director of Counter-Intelligence for the Middle East Gordon M. Snow. Al-Awlaki also served as the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, where he was hired by Esam Omeish.
Omeish said in 2004 that he was convinced that al-Awlaki: "has no inclination or active involvement in any events or circumstances that have to do with terrorism". Fluent in English, known for giving eloquent talks on Islam, and with a mandate to attract young non-Arabic speakers, Awlaki "was the magic bullet", according to the mosque spokesman Johari Abdul-Malik; "he had everything all in a box;" "he had an allure. He was charming."
When police investigating the 9/11 attacks raided the Hamburg, Germany, apartment of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they found the telephone number of al-Awlaki among bin al-Shibh's personal contacts. The FBI interviewed al-Awlaki four times in the eight days following the 9/11 attacks. One detective later told the 9/11 Commission he believed al-Awlaki "was at the center of the 9/11 story". And an FBI agent said,"if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been" him, since "someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused". One 9/11 Commission staff member said: "Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something? Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it." A separate Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks suggested that al-Awlaki may have been part of a support network for the hijackers, according to its director, Eleanor Hill. In 2003, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee said, "In my view, he is more than a coincidental figure."
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Awlaki was sought in Washington, DC as a media source to answer questions about Islam and its rituals, and its relation to the attacks. He was interviewed by National Geographic, The New York Times, and other media. Al-Awlaki condemned the attacks, stating,
There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion." He noted that others might "say that Muslim land is now invaded by the U.S., there are U.S. soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf. And then, the state of Israel is an occupying force which is supported by the U.S.
According to an NPR report in 2010, in 2001 al-Awlaki appeared to be a moderate who could "bridge the gap between the United States and the worldwide community of Muslims." The New York Times said at the time that he was "held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West."
Six days after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki suggested in writing on the IslamOnline.net website that Israeli intelligence agents might have been responsible for the attacks, and that the FBI "went into the roster of the airplanes, and whoever has a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default".
In 2010, FOX and the New York New York Daily News reported that months after the 9/11 attacks, a Pentagon employee invited al-Awlaki to a luncheon in the Secretary's Office of General Counsel. The U.S. Secretary of the Army had asked for a presentation from a moderate Muslim as part of an outreach effort to ease tensions with Muslim-Americans.
In 2002, al-Awlaki was the first imam to conduct a prayer service for the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association at the U.S. Capitol. The prayers were for Muslim congressional staffers and officials for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The 2002 PBS documentary, Legacy of a Prophet, includes a brief appearance of al-Awlaki with this group. That year Nidal Malik Hasan visited his mosque when Awlaki presided over the funeral of Hasan's mother. In November 2009 the psychiatrist was the primary suspect in the Fort Hood shooting. Hasan usually attended a mosque in Maryland closer to where he lived while working at the Walter Reed Medical Center (2003–09).
Weeks later in 2002, the imam posted an essay in Arabic entitled, "Why Muslims Love Death," on the Islam Today website, praising the Palestinian suicide bombers. Months later, in a videotaped lecture broadcast in English in a London mosque, he lauded the men. By July 2002, al-Awlaki was under investigation in the U.S. for having been sent money by the subject of a U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation. His name was placed on an early version of what is now the federal terror watch list.
In June 2002, a Denver federal judge signed an arrest warrant for al-Awlaki for passport fraud. On October 9, the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss its complaint, and vacate the arrest warrant. Prosecutors believed that they lacked sufficient evidence of a crime, according to U.S. Attorney Dave Gaouette, who authorized its withdrawal. Al-Awlaki had listed Yemen rather than the United States as his place of birth on his 1990 application for a U.S. Social Security number, soon after arriving in the US. "The bizarre thing is if you put Yemen down (on the application), it would be harder to get a Social Security number than to say you are a native-born citizen of Las Cruces", Gaouette said.
Prosecutors could not charge him in October 2002, when he returned from a trip abroad, because a 10-year statute of limitations on lying to the Social Security Administration had expired. The motion for rescinding the arrest warrant was approved by a magistrate judge on October 10, and filed on October 11. According to a 2012 investigative report by Fox News, the arrest warrant for passport fraud was still in effect on the morning of Oct 10, 2002, when FBI Agent Wade Ammerman ordered al-Awlaki's release. U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and several congressional committees are urging FBI Director Robert Mueller to provide an explanation about the bureau’s interactions with al-Awlaki, including why he was released from federal custody when there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
ABC News reported in 2009 that the decision to cancel the arrest warrant outraged members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego at the time. They were monitoring al-Awlaki and wanted to "look at him under a microscope". But U.S. Attorney Gaouette said that no objection had been raised to the rescinding of the warrant during a meeting including Ray Fournier. He was the San Diego federal diplomatic security agent whose allegation had set in motion the effort to obtain a warrant. Gaouette said that if al-Awlaki had been convicted at the time, he would have faced about 6 months in custody.
The New York Times suggested later that al-Awlaki had claimed birth in Yemen (his family's place of origin) to qualify for scholarship money granted to foreign citizens. U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) wrote in May 2010 that it was his understanding that by doing so, al-Awlaki fraudulently obtained more than $20,000 in scholarship funds reserved for foreign students, for which he was not legally eligible.
While living in Northern Virginia, al-Awlaki visited Ali al-Timimi, later known as a radical Islamic cleric. Al-Timimi was convicted in 2005 and is now serving a life sentence for leading the Virginia Jihad Network, inciting Muslim followers to fight with the Taliban against the U.S.
Al-Awlaki left the U.S. before the end of 2002, because of a "climate of fear and intimidation" according to Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque.
Moving to the UK for several months, he gave talks to up to 200 youths at a time. He urged young Muslim followers: "The important lesson to learn here is never, ever trust a kuffar [non-Muslim]. Do not trust them! [They] are plotting to kill this religion. They're plotting night and day." "He was the main man who translated the jihad into English," said a student who attended his lectures in 2003.
He gave a series of lectures in December 2002 and January 2003 at the London Masjid al-Tawhid mosque, describing the rewards martyrs receive in paradise, and developing a following among ultraconservative young Muslims. He was a "distinguished guest" speaker at the U.K.'s Federation of Student Islamic Societies' (FOSIS) annual dinner in 2003. He began a grand lecture tour of Britain, from London to Aberdeen, as part of a campaign by the Muslim Association of Britain. He also lectured for the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE), based at the East London Mosque, and appeared at an event at the East London Mosque in which he told his audience: "A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim… he does not betray him, and he does not hand him over… You don't hand over a Muslim to the enemies."
In Britain's Parliament in 2003, Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, discussed the relationship between al-Awlaki and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a Muslim Brotherhood front organization founded by Kemal el-Helbawy, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Awlaki returned to Yemen in early 2004, and lived in his ancestral village in the southern province of Shabwa with his wife and five children. He lectured at Iman University, headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. The latter has been included on the UN 1267 Committee's list of individuals belonging to or associated with al-Qaida. Some believe that the school's curriculum deals mostly, if not exclusively, with radical Islamic studies, and that it is an incubator of radicalism. The American convert, John Walker Lindh, and some other alumni have been accused of terrorism. Al-Zindani denied having any influence over al-Awlaki, or that he had been his "direct teacher".
On August 31, 2006, al-Awlaki was arrested with four others on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and participating in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. military attaché. He was imprisoned in 2006 and 2007, reportedly under American pressure on the Yemeni authorities. He was interviewed around September 2007 by two FBI agents with regard to the 9/11 attacks and other subjects, and John Negroponte, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told Yemeni officials he did not object to al-Awlaki's detention.
His name was on a list of 100 prisoners whose release was sought by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen. After 18 months in a Yemeni prison, al-Awlaki was released on December 12, 2007, following the intercession of his tribe. According to a Yemeni security official, this indicated the U.S. did not insist on his incarceration, and that he said he repented. He moved to his family home in Saeed, a hamlet in the rugged Shabwa mountains.
Moazzam Begg's Cageprisoners, an organization representing former Guantanamo detainees, campaigned for al-Awlaki's release when he was in prison in Yemen. Shortly after his release, Begg obtained an exclusive telephone interview with him. According to Begg, prior to his incarceration in Yemen, al-Awlaki had condemned the 9/11 attacks.
Some analysts believe that al-Awlaki became radicalized by his prison experience. In December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somalian terrorist group, al-Shabaab, congratulating them. He thanked them for
"giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not." In conclusion, he wrote: "if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks."
Al-Awlaki provided al-Qaeda members in Yemen with the protection of his powerful tribe, the Awlakis, against the government. The tribal code required it to protect those who seek refuge and assistance. This imperative has greater force when the person is a member of the tribe, or a tribesman's friend. The tribe's motto is "We are the sparks of Hell; whomever interferes with us will be burned." Al-Awlaki also reportedly helped negotiate deals with leaders of other tribes.
Sought by Yemeni authorities with regard to an investigation into his al-Qaeda ties, al-Awlaki avoided detection. According to his father, al-Awlaki disappeared and went into hiding in approximately March 2009. By December 2009, al-Awlaki was on the Yemen government's most-wanted list. He was believed to be hiding in Yemen's rugged Shabwa or Mareb regions, which are part of the so-called "triangle of evil." (It is known as an area attracting al-Qaeda militants seeking refuge among local tribes who are unhappy with Yemen's central government).
Yemeni sources originally said al-Awlaki might have been killed in a pre-dawn air strike by Yemeni Air Force fighter jets on a meeting of senior al-Qaeda leaders at a hideout in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa, on December 24, 2009. But he survived. Pravda reported that the planes, using Saudi Arabian and U.S. intelligence aid, killed at least 30 al-Qaeda members from Yemen and abroad, and that an al-Awlaki house was "raided and demolished". On December 28 The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Yemeni officials said that al-Awlaki had attended the al-Qaeda meeting. Abdul Elah al-Shaya, a Yemeni journalist, said the former imam called him on December 28, said that he was well and had not attended the al-Qaeda meeting. Al-Shaya insisted that al-Awlaki was not tied to al-Qaeda. He did not address whether he was connected to the Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had tried to bomb the plane in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
In March 2010, a tape featuring al-Awlaki was released in which he urged Muslims residing in the U.S. to attack their country of residence. In the video, he stated:
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? 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.
In July 2010, a Seattle cartoonist was warned by the FBI of a death threat against him issued by al-Awlaki in the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire. Eight other cartoonists, journalists, and writers from Britain, Sweden and Denmark were also threatened with death. "The prophet is the pinnacle of Jihad", al-Awlaki wrote. "It is better to support the prophet by attacking those who slander him than it is to travel to land of Jihad like Iraq or Afghanistan."
After 2006, al-Awlaki was banned from entering the United Kingdom. He broadcast lectures to mosques and other venues there via video-link from 2007 to 2009, on at least seven occasions at five locations in Britain. Noor Pro Media Events held a conference at the East London Mosque on January 1, 2009, showing a videotaped lecture by al-Awlaki; former Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve expressed concern over his being featured.
He also gave video-link talks in England to an Islamic student society at the University of Westminster in September 2008, an arts center in East London in April 2009 (after the Tower Hamlets council gave its approval), worshippers at the Al Huda Mosque in Bradford, and a dinner of the Cageprisoners organization in September 2008 at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in South London. On August 23, 2009, al-Awlaki was banned by local authorities in Kensington and Chelsea, London, from speaking at Kensington Town Hall via videolink to a fundraiser dinner for Guantanamo detainees promoted by Cageprisoners. His videos, which discuss his Islamist theories, have also been circulated across the United Kingdom. Until February 2010, hundreds of audio tapes of his sermons were available at the Tower Hamlets public libraries. In 2010 it was reported that the London-based Islam Channel had in 2009 carried advertisements for DVDs of al-Awlaki's sermons and for at least two events at which he was to speak via video link.
Al-Awlaki's name came up in a dozen terrorism plots in the U.S., UK, and Canada. The cases included suicide bombers in the 2005 London bombings, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, the jihadist killer in the 2009 Little Rock military recruiting office shooting, and the 2010 Times Square bomber. In each case the suspects were devoted to al-Awlaki's message, which they listened to on laptops, audio clips, and CDs.
Al-Awlaki's recorded lectures were also an inspiration to Islamist fundamentalists who comprised at least six terror cells in the UK through 2009. Michael Finton (Talib Islam), who attempted in September 2009, to bomb the Federal Building and the adjacent offices of Congressman Aaron Schock in Springfield, Illinois, admired al-Awlaki and quoted him on his Myspace page. In addition to his website, al-Awlaki had a Facebook fan page with a substantial percentage of "fans" from the U.S., many of whom were high school students.
Al-Awlaki influenced several other extremists to join terrorist organizations overseas and to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries. Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, two American citizens from New Jersey who attempted to travel to Somalia in June 2010 to join Al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group based there—allegedly watched several al-Awlaki videos and sermons in which al-Awlaki warned of future attacks against Americans in the U.S. and abroad. Zachary Chesser (nicknamed Abu Talha al-Amrikee), another American citizen who was arrested for attempting to provide material support to Al Shabaab, also told federal authorities that he watched online videos featuring al-Awlaki and that he exchanged several e-mails with al-Awlaki. In July 2010, Paul Rockwood pleaded guilty to, and received an eight-year prison sentence for, assembling a hit list of 15 targets for assassination or bomb attacks within the U.S. of people who he felt had desecrated Islam. Rockwood admitted to having become a "strict adherent to the violent jihad-promoting ideology of cleric [Awlaki]", which "included a personal conviction that it was [Rockwood's] religious responsibility to exact revenge by death on anyone who desecrated Islam", and following al-Awlaki's ideology, "including devotion to [Awlaki's] violence-promoting works, Constants on the Path to Jihad and 44 Ways to Jihad".
In October 2008, Charles Allen, U.S. Undersecretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, warned that al-Awlaki "targets U.S. Muslims with radical online lectures encouraging terrorist attacks from his new home in Yemen." Responding to Allen, al-Awlaki wrote on his website in December 2008: "I would challenge him to come up with just one such lecture where I encourage 'terrorist attacks'".
Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan was investigated by the FBI after intelligence agencies intercepted at least 18 e-mails between him and al-Awlaki between December 2008 and June 2009. Even before the contents of the e-mails were revealed, terrorism expert Jarret Brachman said that Hasan's contacts with al-Awlaki should have raised "huge red flags". According to Brachman, al-Awlaki is a major influence on radical English-speaking jihadis internationally. The Wall Street Journal reported that "There is no indication Mr. Awlaki played a direct role in any of the attacks, and he has never been indicted in the U.S."
In one of the e-mails, Hasan wrote al-Awlaki: "I can't wait to join you [in the afterlife]". "It sounds like code words," said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. "That he's actually either offering himself up, or that he's already crossed that line in his own mind." Hasan also asked al-Awlaki when jihad is appropriate, and whether it is permissible if innocents are killed in a suicide attack. In the months before the attacks, Hasan increased his contacts with al-Awlaki to discuss how to transfer funds abroad without coming to the attention of law authorities.
A DC-based Joint Terrorism Task Force operating under the FBI was notified of the e-mails, and reviewed the information. Army employees were informed of the e-mails, but they didn't perceive any terrorist threat in Hasan's questions. Instead, they viewed them as general questions about spiritual guidance with regard to conflicts between Islam and military service, and judged them to be consistent with legitimate mental health research about Muslims in the armed services. The assessment was that there was not sufficient information for a larger investigation.
Charles Allen, no longer in government, said:
I find it difficult to understand why an Army major would be in repeated contact with an Islamic extremist like Anwar al-Awlaki, who preaches a hateful ideology directed at inciting violence against the United States and the West… It is hard to see how repeated contact would in any legitimate way further his research as a psychiatrist.
Al-Awlaki had set up a website, with a blog on which he shared his views. On December 11, 2008, he condemned any Muslim who seeks a religious decree "that would allow him to serve in the armies of the disbelievers and fight against his brothers".
In "44 Ways to Support Jihad", another sermon posted on his blog in February 2009, al-Awlaki encouraged others to "fight jihad", and explained how to give money to the mujahideen or their families after they've died. Al-Awlaki's sermon also encouraged others to conduct weapons training, and raise children "on the love of Jihad". Also that month, he wrote: "I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies." He wrote as well: "We will implement the rule of Allah on Earth by the tip of the sword, whether the masses like it or not." On July 14, he criticized armies of Muslim countries that assist the U.S. military, saying, "the blame should be placed on the soldier who is willing to follow orders … who sells his religion for a few dollars." In a sermon on his blog on July 15, 2009, entitled "Fighting Against Government Armies in the Muslim World", al-Awlaki wrote, "Blessed are those who fight against [American soldiers], and blessed are those shuhada [martyrs] who are killed by them."
A fellow Muslim officer at Fort Hood said Hasan's eyes "lit up" when gushing about al-Awlaki's teachings. Some investigators believe that Hasan's contacts with al-Awlaki are what pushed him toward violence.
After the Fort Hood shooting, on his now temporarily inoperable website (apparently because some web hosting companies took it down), al-Awlaki praised Hasan's actions:
Nidal Hassan is a hero.... The U.S. is leading the war against terrorism, which in reality is a war against Islam..... Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.
The fact that fighting against the U.S. army is an Islamic duty today cannot be disputed. No scholar with a grain of Islamic knowledge can defy the clear cut proofs that Muslims today have the right—rather the duty—to fight against American tyranny. Nidal has killed soldiers who were about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to kill Muslims. The American Muslims who condemned his actions have committed treason against the Muslim Ummah and have fallen into hypocrisy.... May Allah grant our brother Nidal patience, perseverance, and steadfastness, and we ask Allah to accept from him his great heroic act. Ameen.
Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea interviewed al-Awlaki in November 2009. Al-Awlaki acknowledged his correspondence with Hasan. He said he "neither ordered nor pressured … Hasan to harm Americans." Al-Awlaki said Hasan first e-mailed him December 17, 2008, introducing himself by writing: "Do you remember me? I used to pray with you at the Virginia mosque." Hasan said he had become a devout Muslim around the time al-Awlaki was preaching at Dar al-Hijrah, in 2001 and 2002, and al-Awlakisaid 'Maybe Nidal was affected by one of my lectures.'" He added: "It was clear from his e-mails that Nidal trusted me. Nidal told me: 'I speak with you about issues that I never speak with anyone else.'" Al-Awlaki said Hasan arrived at his own conclusions regarding the acceptability of violence in Islam, and said he was not the one to initiate this. Shaea said, "Nidal was providing evidence to Anwar, not vice versa."
Asked whether Hasan mentioned Fort Hood as a target in his e-mails, Shaea declined to comment. However, al-Awlaki said the shooting was acceptable in Islam because it was a form of jihad, as the West began the hostilities with the Muslims. Al-Awlaki said he "blessed the act because it was against a military target. And the soldiers who were killed were … those who were trained and prepared to go to Iraq and Afghanistan".
Al-Awlaki released a tape in March 2010, in which he said, in part:
- To the American people … Obama has promised that his administration will be one of transparency, but he has not fulfilled his promise. His administration tried to portray the operation of brother Nidal Hasan as an individual act of violence from an estranged individual. The administration practiced to control on the leak of information concerning the operation, in order to cushion the reaction of the American public.
- Until this moment the administration is refusing to release the e-mails exchanged between myself and Nidal. And after the operation of our brother Umar Farouk, the initial comments coming from the administration were looking the same – another attempt at covering up the truth. But al-Qaeda cut off Obama from deceiving the world again by issuing their statement claiming responsibility for the operation.
Al-Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the convicted al-Qaeda attempted bomber of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009, had contacts according to a number of sources. In January 2010, CNN reported that U.S. "security sources" said that there is concrete evidence that al-Awlaki was Abdulmutallab's recruiter and one of his trainers, and met with him prior to the attack. In February 2010, al-Awlaki admitted in an interview published in al-Jazeera that he taught and corresponded with Abdulmutallab, but denied having ordered the attack.
Representative Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said officials in the Obama administration and officials with access to law enforcement information told him the suspect "had contact [with al-Awlaki]".
The Sunday Times established that Abdulmutallab first met al-Awlaki in 2005 in Yemen, while he was studying Arabic. During that time the suspect attended lectures by al-Awlaki. The two are also "thought to have met" in London, according to The Daily Mail.
NPR reported that according to unnamed U.S. intelligence officials he attended a sermon by al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque. Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, who resigned as trustee of the mosque, pointed to the NPR report in expressing "grave misgivings" with regard to the stewardship of the mosque. The Finsbury Park Mosque stated, however:
Neither Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nor Anwar al-Awlaki has ever been invited to attend NLCM since we took charge of the mosque in February 2005. We can be certain that neither man has been given a platform at the mosque in any form and in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki we can be confident that he would not have been able to enter the mosque without his presence being brought to our attention.
Abdulmutallab was also reported to have attended a talk by al-Awlaki at the East London Mosque, which al-Awlaki may have attended by video teleconference, according to CBS News, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Telegraph. However, The Sunday Telegraph later removed the report from its website following a complaint by the East London Mosque, which stated that "Anwar Al Awlaki did not deliver any talks at the ELM between 2005 and 2008, which is when the newspaper had falsely alleged that Abdullmutallab had attended such talks".
Evidence collected during searches of flats connected to Abdulmutallab in London indicated that he was a "big fan" of al-Awlaki, as web traffic showed he followed al-Awlaki's blog and website.
The two were communicating in the months before the bombing attempt, reported CBS News, and CBS reported that sources said that al-Awlaki at a minimum was providing spiritual support. According to federal sources, over the year prior to the attack, Abdulmutallab intensified electronic communications with al-Awlaki. "Voice-to-voice communication" between the two was intercepted during the fall of 2009, and one government source said al-Awlaki "was in some way involved in facilitating [Abdulmutallab]'s transportation or trip through Yemen. It could be training, a host of things." NPR reported that intelligence officials it did not name suspect al-Awlaki may have directed Abdulmutallab to Yemen for al-Qaeda training.
Abdulmutallab told the FBI that al-Awlaki was one of his al-Qaeda trainers in remote camps in Yemen. And there were confirming "informed reports" that Abdulmutallab met with al-Awlaki during his final weeks of training and indoctrination prior to the attack. The Los Angeles Times reported that according to a U.S. intelligence official, intercepts and other information point to connections between the two:
Some of the information … comes from Abdulmutallab, who … said that he met with al-Awlaki and senior al-Qaeda members during an extended trip to Yemen this year, and that the cleric was involved in some elements of planning or preparing the attack and in providing religious justification for it. Other intelligence linking the two became apparent after the attempted bombing, including communications intercepted by the National Security Agency indicating that the cleric was meeting with "a Nigerian" in preparation for some kind of operation.
Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs, Rashad Mohammed al-Alimi, said Yemeni investigators believe that in October 2009 the suspect traveled to Shabwa. There, he met with al-Qaeda members in a house built by al-Awlaki and used by al-Awlaki to hold theological sessions, and Abdulmutallab was trained there and equipped there with his explosives. A top Yemen government official said the two met with each other.
In January 2010, al-Awlaki acknowledged that he met and spoke with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009. In an interview, al-Awlaki said: "Umar Farouk is one of my students; I had communications with him. And I support what he did." He also said: "I did not tell him to do this operation, but I support it," adding that he was proud of Abdulmutallab. Separately, al-Awlaki asked Yemen's conservative religious scholars to call for the killing of U.S. military and intelligence officials who assist Yemen's counter-terrorism program. Fox News reported in early February 2010 that Abdulmutallab told federal investigators that al-Awlaki directed him to carry out the bombing.
In his March 2010 tape, al-Awlaki also said:
To the American people … nine years after 9/11, nine years of spending, and nine years of beefing up security you are still unsafe even in the holiest and most sacred of days to you, Christmas Day…. Our brother Umar Farouk has succeeded in breaking through the security systems that have cost the U.S. government alone over 40 billion dollars since 9/11.
Alleged al-Qaeda member Sharif Mobley, who is charged with having killed a guard during a March 2010 escape attempt in Yemen, left his home in U.S state of New Jersey to seek out al-Awlaki, hoping that al-Awlaki would become his al-Qaeda mentor, according to senior U.S. security officials as reported by CNN. He was in contact with al-Awlaki, according to officials from the U.S. and Yemen, The New York Times reported. A Yemeni embassy spokesman in Washington, D.C., said he was not surprised by al-Awlaki's apparent links to Mobley, calling al-Awlaki: "a fixture in jihad 101".
Faisal Shahzad, convicted of the attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010, told interrogators that he was "inspired by" al-Awlaki. Shahzad said he was moved to action, at least in part, by al-Awlaki's English-language writings calling for holy war against Western targets, and he was a "fan and follower" of al-Awlaki. On May 6, 2010 ABC News reported that unknown sources told them Shahzad made contact with al-Awlaki over the internet, a claim that could not be independently verified.
After becoming radicalized by online sermons of al-Awlaki, Roshonara Choudhry stabbed British former Cabinet Minister Stephen Timms in May 2010. On November 4, 2010, she was sentenced at the Old Bailey in London to life imprisonment for attempted murder.
In 2010, cartoonist Molly Norris at Seattle Weekly had to stop publishing, and at the suggestion of the FBI change her name, move, and go into hiding due to a Fatwā calling for her death issued by al-Awlaki, after Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Al-Awlaki cursed her and eight other cartoonists, authors, and journalists who are Swedish, Dutch, and British citizens for "blasphemous caricatures" of the Prophet Muhammad, in the June 2010 issue of an English-language al-Qaeda magazine that calls itself Inspire, writing "The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved" . Daniel Pipes observed in an article entitled "Dueling Fatwas", "Awlaki stands at an unprecedented crossroads of death declarations, with his targeting Norris even as the U.S. government targets him."
British Home Secretary, Theresa May, said on November 3, 2010, that an associate of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was in touch with al-Awlaki, had been arrested in 2010 for allegedly planning a terrorist attack on passenger planes in Britain.
The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph reported that U.S. and British counter-terrorism officials believe that al-Awlaki was behind the cargo plane PETN bombs that were sent from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010. The New York Times also reported that some analysts believe the attempted bombing may be linked to al-Awlaki. In addition, when U.S. Homeland Security official John Brennan was asked about al-Awlaki's suspected involvement in the plot, he said: "Anybody associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a subject of concern." U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein said "al-Awlaki was behind the two … bombs."
Al-Awlaki's father proclaimed his son's innocence in an interview with CNN's Paula Newton, saying: "I am now afraid of what they will do with my son. He's not Osama bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not." Responding to a Yemeni official's claims that his son was hiding in the southern mountains of Yemen with al-Qaeda, Nasser said: "He's dead wrong. What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village. He has to hide. But he is not hiding with al-Qaeda; our tribe is protecting him right now." The Awlaq tribe is large and powerful, with a number of connections to the Yemeni government. "He has been wrongly accused, it's unbelievable. He lived his life in America; he's an all-American boy", said his father.
The Yemeni government negotiated with tribal leaders, trying to convince them to hand al-Awlaki over. Yemeni authorities offered guarantees they would not turn al-Awlaki over to the U.S. or let him be questioned. The governor of Shabwa said in January 2010 that al-Awlaki was on the move with a group of al-Qaeda elements from Shabwa, including Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole.
In January 2010, White House lawyers considered the legality of attempting to kill al-Awlaki, given his U.S. citizenship. Opportunities to do so "may have been missed" because of legal questions surrounding such an attack. But on February 4, 2010, New York Daily News reported that al-Awlaki was "now on a targeting list signed off on by the Obama administration".
On April 6, The New York Times also reported that President Obama had authorized the killing of al-Awlaki. The CIA and the U.S. military both maintain lists of terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are approved for capture or killing. Because he is a U.S. citizen, his inclusion on those lists was approved by the National Security Council. U.S. officials said it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing. The New York Times reported that international law allows the use of lethal force against people who pose an imminent threat to a country, and U.S. officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the target list. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against al-Qaeda after 9/11. People on the target list are considered military enemies of the U.S., and therefore not subject to a ban on political assassinations approved by former President Gerald Ford. Nevertheless, the authorization was controversial.
The powerful al-Awalik tribe responded "We warn against cooperating with America to kill Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki. We will not stand by idly and watch." Al-Awlaki's tribe wrote that it would "not remain with arms crossed if a hair of Anwar al-Awlaki is touched, or if anyone plots or spies against him. Whoever risks denouncing our son (Awlaki) will be the target of Al-Awalik weapons," and gave warning "against co-operating with the Americans" in the capture or killing of al-Awlaki. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, followed by announcing that the Yemeni government had not received any evidence from the U.S., and that "Anwar al-Awlaki has always been looked at as a preacher rather than a terrorist and shouldn't be considered as a terrorist unless the Americans have evidence that he has been involved in terrorism".
Following the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 incident David Barron and Martin Lederman, lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were tasked to declare whether deliberately killing Awlaki, despite his citizenship, would be lawful, assuming it was not feasible to capture him. Confronted by 18 U.S.C § 1119 which states that "A person who, being a national of the United States, kills or attempts to kill a national of the United States while such national is outside the United States but within the jurisdiction of another country shall be punished" both lawyers discovered a 1997 U.S. district court decision. The case involved a woman who was charged with killing her child in Japan. The district court judge handling the case ruled that the terse overseas-killing law must be interpreted as incorporating the exceptions of its domestic-murder counterpart, writing, “Congress did not intend to criminalize justifiable or excusable killings.” Both lawyers concluded that the foreign-killing statute would not impede a drone strike by arguing that it is not unlawful “murder” when the U.S. government kills an enemy leader in war or national self-defense.
Al-Awlaki's e-mail conversations with Hasan were not released, and he was not placed on the FBI Most Wanted list, indicted for treason, or officially named as a co-conspirator with Hasan. The U.S. government was reluctant to classify the Fort Hood shooting as a terrorist incident, or identify any motive. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2010 that al-Awlaki: "has never been indicted in the U.S." Al-Awlaki's father, tribe, and supporters denied his alleged associations with Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism.
In a video clip bearing the imprint of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, issued on April 16 in al-Qaeda's monthly magazine Sada Al-Malahem, al-Awlaki said: "What am I accused of? Of calling for the truth? Of calling for jihad for the sake of Allah? Of calling to defend the causes of the Islamic nation?". In the video he also praises both Abdulmutallab and Hasan, and describes both as his "students".
In late April, Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) introduced a resolution urging the U.S. State Department to issue a "certificate of loss of nationality" to al-Awlaki. He said al-Awlaki "preaches a culture of hate" and had been a functioning member of al-Qaeda "since before 9/11", and had effectively renounced his citizenship by engaging in treasonous acts.
By May, U.S. officials believed he had become "operational", plotting, not just inspiring, terrorism against the West. Former colleague Abdul-Malik said he "is a terrorist, in my book", and advised shops not to carry even the earlier, non-jihadist al-Awlaki sermons. In an editorial, Investor's Business Daily called al-Awlaki the "world's most dangerous man", and recommended that he be added to the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list, a bounty put on his head, that he be designated a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" like Zindani, charged with treason, and extradition papers filed with the Yemeni government. IBD criticized the Justice Department for stonewalling Senator Joe Lieberman's security panel's investigation of al-Awlaki's role in the Fort Hood massacre.
On July 16, the U.S. Treasury Department added him to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. As a result, any U.S. bank accounts he may have had would have been frozen, Americans were forbidden from doing business with him, and he was banned from traveling to the U.S. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said al-Awlaki:
has proven that he is extraordinarily dangerous, committed to carrying out deadly attacks on Americans and others worldwide … [and] has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism—fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents.
A few days later, the United Nations Security Council placed al-Awlaki on its UN Security Council Resolution 1267 list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda, saying in its summary of reasons that he is a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was involved in recruiting and training camps. That required U.N. member states to freeze his assets, impose a travel ban on him, and prevent weapons from landing in his hands. The following week, the Canadian government ordered financial institutions to look for and seize any property linked to al-Awlaki, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's senior counter-terrorism officer Gilles Michaud singled out al-Awlaki as a "major, major factor in radicalization". In September 2010, Jonathan Evans, the Director General of the United Kingdom's domestic security and counter-intelligence agency (MI5), said that al-Awlaki was the West's Public Enemy No 1.
In October 2010, U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) urged YouTube to take down al-Awlaki's videos from its website, saying that by hosting al-Awlaki's messages, "We are facilitating the recruitment of homegrown terror." Pauline Neville-Jones, British security minister, said "These Web sites … incite cold-blooded murder." In November 2010, YouTube removed from its site some of the hundreds of videos featuring al-Awlaki calls to jihad.
Al-Awlaki was charged in absentia in Sana'a, Yemen, on November 2 with plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda. Ali al-Saneaa, the head of the prosecutor's office, announced the charges as part of a trial against another man, Hisham Assem, who had been accused of killing a Frenchman, also saying that al-Awlaki corresponded with Assem for months, encouraging him to kill foreigners. The prosecutor said:
Yesterday a regular visitor of bars and discotheques in America … Awlaki today has become the catalyst for shedding the blood of foreigners and security forces. He was chosen by Al-Qaeda to be the lead in many of their criminal operations in Yemen. Awlaki is a figure prone to evil devoid of any conscience, religion, or law.
In a video posted to the internet on November 8, 2010, al-Awlaki called for Muslims around the world to kill Americans "without hesitation", and overthrow Arab leaders. He said that no fatwa (special clerical ruling) is required to kill Americans: "Don't consult with anyone in fighting the Americans, fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers or seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils." That month, Intelligence Research Specialist Kevin Yorke of the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Division called him "the most dangerous man in the world".
In his book Ticking Time Bomb: Counter-Terrorism Lessons from the U.S. Government's Failure to Prevent the Fort Hood Attack (2011), former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman wrote that al-Awlaki, Australian Muslim preacher Feiz Mohammad, Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal, and Pakistani-American Samir Khan were examples of a "virtual spiritual sanctioner" who over the internet provides a level of religious justification for Islamist terrorist violence.
U.S. officials stated that the "imminent threat" international legal standard was used to add al-Aulakqi's name to the C.I.A.'s list of people targeted for killing. In July 2010, al-Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki, contracted the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to represent his son in a lawsuit that sought to remove Anwar from the targeted killing list. ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said:
the United States is not at war in Yemen, and the government doesn't have a blank check to kill terrorism suspects wherever they are in the world. Among the arguments we'll be making is that, outside actual war zones, the authority to use lethal force is narrowly circumscribed, and preserving the rule of law depends on keeping this authority narrow.
Lawyers for Specially Designated Global Terrorists must obtain a special license from the U.S. Treasury Department before they can represent their clients in court. The lawyers were granted the license on August 4, 2010.
On August 30, 2010, the groups filed a "targeted killing" lawsuit, naming President Barack Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as defendants. They sought an injunction preventing the targeted killing of al-Awlaki, and also sought to require the government to disclose the standards under which U.S. citizens may be "targeted for death". Judge John D. Bates dismissed the lawsuit in an 83-page ruling, holding that the father did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, and that his claims were judicially unreviewable under the political question doctrine inasmuch as he was questioning a decision that the U.S. Constitution committed to the political branches.
On May 5, 2011, the U.S. tried to kill al-Awlaki by firing a missile from an unmanned drone at a car in Yemen, but he survived the attempted killing. A Yemeni security official said that two al-Qaeda operatives in the car died.
On September 30, 2011, in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province, two Predator drones, based out of a secret CIA Base in Saudi Arabia, fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle containing al-Awlaki and three other suspected al-Qaeda members. A witness said the group had stopped to eat breakfast while traveling to Ma'rib Governorate. A Predator drone was spotted by the group, which then tried to flee in the vehicle. According to U.S. sources, the strike was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA. U.S. President Barack Obama said:
The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda's most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans … and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. [The strike] is further proof that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.
Yemen's Defense Ministry announced that al-Awlaki had been killed in the country. Also killed was Samir Khan, an American born in Saudi Arabia, who was editor of al-Qaeda's English-language web magazine, Inspire.
Journalist and author Glenn Greenwald argued on Salon.com that killing al-Awlaki violated his First Amendment right of free speech and that doing so outside of a criminal proceeding violated the Constitution's due process clause, specifically citing the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio that "the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force." He mentioned doubt among Yemenese experts about Awlaki's role in Al Qaida, and called U.S. government accusations against him unverified and lacking in evidence.
Another American critic of the War on Terror Paul Craig Roberts wrote Awlaki gave "sermons critical of Washington’s indiscriminate assaults on Muslim peoples" who "told Muslims that they did not have to passively accept American aggression." He called the operation "The Day America Died" as he asserted the U.S. lacked evidence either Awlaki or Khan were real threats or Al Qaeda operatives.
In a letter dated May 22, 2013 to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee, Patrick J. Leahy, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder wrote that
high-level U.S. government officials [...] concluded that al-Aulaqi posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States. Before carrying out the operation that killed al-Aulaqi, senior officials also determined, based on a careful evaluation of the circumstances at the time, that it was not feasible to capture al-Aulaqi. In addition, senior officials determined that the operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles, including the cardinal principles of (1) necessity - the requirement that the target have definite military value; (2) distinction - the idea that only military objectives may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted; (3) proportionality - the notion that the anticipated collateral damage of an action cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage; and (4) humanity - a principle that requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. The operation was also undertaken consistent with Yemeni sovereignty. [… ] The decision to target Anwar al-Aulaqi was lawful, it was considered, and it was just.
In January 2013, it was announced by Fox News that FBI documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request showed possible connections between al-Awlaki and the 9/11 attacks. According to Judicial Watch, the documents show that the FBI knew that al-Awlaki had bought three tickets for three of the hijackers to fly into Florida and into Las Vegas. Judicial Watch further stated that al-Awlaki "was a central focus of the FBI's investigation of 9/11. They show he wasn't cooperative. And they show that he was under surveillance."
When queried by Fox News, the FBI denied having evidence connecting al-Awlaki and the 9/11 attacks: "The FBI cautions against drawing conclusions from redacted FOIA documents. The FBI and investigating bodies have not found evidence connecting Anwar al-Awlaki and the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The document referenced does not link Anwar al-Awlaki with any purchase of airline tickets for the hijackers."
Anwar al-Awlaki and Egyptian-born Gihan Mohsen Baker had an American son, born on September 13, 1995, in Denver, named Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed at the age of 16 in an American drone strike on October 14, 2011, in Yemen, along with alleged al-Qaeda members two weeks after the death of his father. Nine other people were killed in the same CIA-led attack. Among the dead was a 17-year-old cousin of Abdulrahman. According to U.S. officials the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a mistake; the actual target was an Egyptian, Ibrahim al-Banna. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was reported to have gone out in the desert to search for his missing father but was sitting in a cafe when he was killed. Human rights groups have raised questions as to why an American citizen was killed by the U.S. in a country with which the United States is not at war. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki had no connection to terrorism.
Nasser al-Awlaki is the father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki stated he believed his son had been wrongly accused and was not a member of Al Qaeda. After the deaths of his son and grandson, Nasser published a 6 minute audio message condemning the U.S. for the killings. In the audio he described Obama:
He claimed his son was far from any battlefield. After some media outlets interpreted his audio as violent, Nasser al-Awlaki made statements denying that he was endorsing violence.
A brother-in-law of Awlaki is Tariq al-Dahab, who leads al-Qaeda insurgents in Yemen. On Thursday, February 16, 2012, the terrorist organization stated he had been killed by agents, though it was speculated by the media that he was killed by his brother in a bloody family-type feud.
The Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation said al-Awlaki's ability to write and speak in fluent English enabled him to be a key player in inciting English-speaking Muslims to commit terrorist acts. As al-Awlaki himself wrote in 44 Ways to Support Jihad:
Most of the Jihad literature is available only in Arabic and publishers are not willing to take the risk of translating it. The only ones who are spending the time and money translating Jihad literature are the Western intelligence services … and too bad, they would not be willing to share it with you.
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