US official confirms al-Qaida's al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

By REUTERS
September 30, 2011 14:00

US-born cleric, branded a "global terrorist" by American authorities, killed in air raid, according to Yemen's Defense Ministry.

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Anwar al Awlaki

Anwar al Awlaki_311. (photo credit:Courtesy)

Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric linked to al-Qaida's Yemen-based wing, has been killed, Yemen's Defense Ministry said and a senior Obama administration official confirmed on Friday.

"The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions,"Yemen's Defense Ministry said in a statement sent by text message to journalists, but gave no details.

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A Yemeni security official said Awlaki, who is of Yemeni descent, was hit in a Friday morning air raid in the northern al-Jawf province that borders oil giant Saudi Arabia. He said four others killed with him were suspected al-Qaida members.

It was not immediately clear if Yemeni forces had carried out the raid or if Awlaki had been killed by a US drone strike. A US drone aircraft targeted but missed Alwaki in May.

The Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) usually confirms the deaths of its members or affiliates on Internet posts a few days after the attack.

Awlaki had been implicated in a botched attempt by AQAP to bomb a US-bound plane in 2009 and had contacts with a US Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a US military base the same year.

US authorities have branded him a "global terrorist" and last year authorized his capture or killing, but Sanaa had previously appeared reluctant to act against him.

Eloquent in English and Arabic, Awlaki encouraged attacks on the United States and was seen as a man who could draw in more al-Qaida recruits from Western countries.

Yemen has been mired in turmoil after eight months of mass protests demanding an end to Saleh's 33-year rule. International powers have feared the unrest has emboldened AQAP. Militants with suspected links to the group have seized towns in a southern coastal province near a strategic shipping lane.

One analyst said Awlaki's killing would be more of a boon to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh than a loss for AQAP, seen as one of al-Qaida's most aggressive and dynamic wings.

"For AQAP, these franchises are usually resilient. There are other capable leaders in AQAP who can fill his shoes," said Theodore Karasik, security analyst for the Dubai based INEGMA group. "It's a short step backwards which will likely result in more assertion in the future, for the revenge of his martydom."

However, Awlaki, if his death is confirmed, may not be so easy for AQAP to replace. He may not be a very senior Islamic cleric, nor is he AQAP's leader -- that is Nasser al-Wuhayshi -- but he ranks as its most gifted English-language propagandist.  Britain's intelligence chief John Sawers singled him out as a major threat with a global appeal in a speech last October.

"From his remote base in Yemen, al-Qaida leader and US national Anwar al-Awlaki broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the Internet," he said.

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