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Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by Intelwire.com on September 30, 2011. (Reuters)
Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by Intelwire.com on September 30, 2011. (Reuters)

Al-Awlaki killing no end to battle with al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula Add to ...

Anwar al-Awlaki was an influential figure in al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but not its leader.

While effective preaching in English to North American Muslim youth, Mr. al-Awlaki’s power pales in comparison to Ibrahim Asiri, a Saudi believed to have been behind last year’s ink cartridge bombs shipped to Western targets, and the attempted 2009 assassination of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism chief.

As such, the campaign against AQAP is not over, a point seized on quickly by the Yemeni administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh has faced a persistent, sometimes violent attempt to force him from office this year.

Mr. Saleh, who returned last Friday from three months convalescence in Saudi Arabia following an attack on his residence, has insisted he is crucial to the campaign against AQAP.

Indeed, the United States has provided financial and military assistance to aid impoverished Yemen in this campaign. At times, such as when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab carried explosives in his underwear intending to crash an airplane in Detroit, Washington has increased its assistance.

Mr. Saleh may be hoping that because of Yemen’s assistance in pinpointing Mr. al-Awlaki, President Barack Obama will signal support for Yemen’s leader to continue in office.

Earlier this year, members of the Obama administration called for Mr. Saleh to step down in response to the popular uprising.

Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Scholar in Yemen, cautioned upon hearing news of the al-Awlaki kill: “Many in the CT community [military intelligence]have argued that killing Anwar al-Awlaki would significantly reduce the threat of AQAP attacks coming out of Yemen. This, I think, is mistaken.”

Indeed, describing the hit as a “major blow to al-Qaeda” U.S. President Barack Obama may only invite AQAP to prove him wrong.

Anwar al-Awlaki background information

– Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, began as a mosque preacher as he conducted his university studies in the United States. While preaching in San Diego, he came to know two of the men who would eventually become suicide-hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In 2004, he returned to Yemen and began English-language Internet sermons that denounced the United States and called for jihad, or holy war.

– The 40-year-old has been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by Barack Obama in April of 2010 – making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list. At least twice, air strikes were called in on locations in Yemen where Mr. al-Awlaki was suspected of being present, but he wasn’t harmed.

– He was killed by an American drone strike on his vehicle on Friday while he was travelling between Marib and al-Jawf provinces in northern Yemen – areas known for having an al-Qaeda presence and little central government control. Witnesses said he and six others had stopped for breakfast in the desert and were sitting on the ground to eat when they spotted drones, so they rushed to their truck, where they were hit.

– The 2009 Christmas Day plane bombing attempt is said to have been directed by Mr. al-Awlaki, who recruited and prepared a young Nigerian who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, failing only because he botched the detonation of explosives sewn into his underpants. Mr. al-Awlaki is also accused of being a force behind the deadly assault at an American army base in Fort Hood, Tex., and attempts to bomb Times Square.

– Another American militant was killed in the same strike alongside Mr. al-Awlaki – Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani heritage who produced “Inspire,” an English-language al-Qaeda online magazine that spread the word on ways to carry out attacks inside the United States, Yemen’s Defence Ministry and U.S. officials said. Wire services

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