Factbox on Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric killed in air strike
Yemen’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim preacher linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, had been killed, in what a security official said was an air strike. Awlaki had been implicated in a botched attempt by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in 2009 and had contacts with a U.S. Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a U.S. military base the same year.
U.S. authorities have branded him a “global terrorist” but Sanaa had previously appeared reluctant to act against him. It was not immediately clear if Awlaki had been killed in a Yemeni air raid or a U.S. drone strike. A U.S. drone aircraft targeted but missed him in May. Yemeni officials had previously reported that Awlaki had been killed in late 2009.
Here is some background about Awlaki:
* Born in New Mexico in the United States in 1971, Awlaki is a U.S. citizen. He graduated in civil engineering from Colorado State University and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University.
* Awlaki’s family is well-known in Yemen. His father is a former agriculture minister, Nasser al-Awlaki.
* Awlaki is a former imam of mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia. Two of those mosques were attended by some of the September 11, 2001, hijackers.
* He travelled to Yemen in 2004, where he taught at a university before he was arrested and imprisoned in 2006 for suspected links to al Qaeda and involvement in attacks.
* He was released in December 2007 because he said he had repented, a Yemeni security official said. But he was later charged again on similar counts and went into hiding.
* Last year the U.S. administration authorised operations to capture or kill Awlaki. “Awlaki is a proven threat,” said a U.S. official at the time. “He’s being targeted.”
LINKS TO AQAP
* Intelligence agencies had viewed Awlaki as chiefly an al Qaeda sympathizer and recruiter for Islamist causes with possible ties to some of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
* That assessment changed in late 2009 with revelations about his contacts with a Nigerian suspect in the attempted bombing of an airliner approaching Detroit on Dec. 25, claimed by AQAP, and with a U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas on Nov. 5.
* After the Christmas Day airliner plot, U.S. and Yemeni officials said they learned that Awlaki had met the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
* Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist, had sent emails to Awlaki, which were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies and examined by U.S. joint terrorism task forces.
* Hassan was “a hero,” Awlaki wrote in a blog post after the attack. “He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people,” he wrote. Awlaki’s website was closed down after the Fort Hood killings.
IMPORTANCE TO AQAP
* Internet-savvy and eloquent in English and Arabic, Awlaki encouraged attacks on the United States and was seen as a man who could draw in more al Qaeda recruits from Western countries.
* Britain’s intelligence chief John Sawers singled out Awlaki as a major threat in a speech last October, saying: “From his remote base in Yemen, al Qaeda leader and U.S. national Anwar al-Awlaki broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the Internet.”
* Awlaki is not a very senior Islamic cleric. Nor is he the leader of AQAP — that is Nasser al-Wuhayshi — but he ranks as the group’s most gifted English-language propagandist.