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.
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"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.
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.