Friday, September 30, 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

This Oct. 2008 file photo provided by Muhammad ud-Deen, shows radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
by Tucker Reals
CBS News)Updated at 7:09 a.m. Eastern
September 30, 2011
Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical Islamic preacher who rose to the highest level of al Qaeda's franchise in Yemen, has been killed.

Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico, has been linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP)attempted bombing of a U.S. passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas day, 2009, and was thought to be a leader of the group.

A U.S. government official confirms to CBS News senior security correspondent David Martin that al-Awlaki was killed. Yemen's Defense Ministry was first to tell CBS News of the strike, but given previous reports which turned out to be erroneous, the relatively rapid U.S. confirmation is crucial, and bolsters witness accounts that it was a U.S. drone strike that killed the al Qaeda figure.
U.S. officials considered al-Awlaki a most-wanted terror suspect, and added his name last year to the kill or capture list - making him a rare American addition to what is effectively a U.S. government hit-list.
Al-Awlaki's father, who still lives in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming his son's civil rights were violated by the U.S. call for his killing.
A federal court dismissed Nasser al-Awlaki's suit on Dec. 7, 2010, on the grounds that he had no legal standing to challenge the targeting of his son.
A statement from Yemen's foreign press office said the al Qaeda suspect "was targeted and killed 8 KM (about 5 miles) from the town of Khashef in the Province of Jawf, 140KM (about 80 miles) east of the Capital Sana'a."
Al-Arabiya television network cited local tribal sources as saying suspected U.S. drone aircraft - which are known to operate in Yemen - fired two missiles Friday at a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying al-Awlaki and his guards.
CBS News' Khaled Wassef says Al-Awlaki was first reported dead following U.S. air strikes on southern Yemen in December 2009, and then again in November 2010. He was also the target of a U.S. drone attack that killed two al Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on May 5, 2011.
Wassef reports that al-Awlaki last appeared in a video released online in August 2010.
Yemen has risen in recent years to the top of the threat list for U.S. security officials - with AQAP seen as the most active branch of the global terror network in planning attacks against the U.S. homeland.

Al-Awlaki was believed to be a prominent member of the group, taking some role in the planning of actual terror plots, in addition to his role as a religious adviser and powerful recruiting officer. His clear English, American roots, and powerful speaking skills are believed to have attracted many young Muslims from within the U.S. to the cause of jihad.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 19-year-old Nigerian who attempted to blow up the flight to Detroit in 2009, may have met al-Awlaki, and was trained at camps run by the cleric, when he traveled to Yemen just before his attack.
Al-Awlaki's voluminous online preaching, in both video and print form, is also thought to have inspired Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, and Time Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad.
His death will deal AQAP a serious blow, particularly, says CBS News terrorism analyst Juan Zarate, his work to draw young Muslims into the jihadi mindset.
"His role as a propagandist actually will be very difficult to fill," says Zarate.
Ben Venzke, who heads intelligence contracting group IntelCenter in the Washington area, says al-Awlaki's death will not, however, seriously diminish the threat posed by the al Qaeda franchise.
"AQAP remains one of the most dangerous al Qaeda regional arms both in its region and for the direct threat it poses to the U.S. following three recent failed attacks," said Venzke, who monitors jihadi propaganda for myriad U.S. government agencies. "AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who is responsible for expanding the group's focus to conduct attacks on U.S. soil, remains in charge of the group and further attempts to conduct attacks in the U.S. are expected."