Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist al-Qaeda imam and an American citizen was killed in an assassination strike by U.S. missile-firing drones operating over strife-torn Yemen, U.S and Yemini officials say.
American militant, Samir Khan, who produced an English-language al-Qaeda web magazine, also died in the U.S. airstrike, Yemen’s Defense Ministry says.
The killing marks the first time an American citizen was deliberately targeted and killed by the missile-firing drones that have become President Barack Obama’s favoured weapon for attacking al-Qaeda’s leadership and other Islamic radicals in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Mr. Obama declared the killing a “major blow” to al-Qaeda's most active affiliate, and vowed a vigorous U.S. campaign to prevent the terror network and its partners from finding a haven anywhere in the world.
Seeking to justify the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen, Mr. Obama outlined Mr. Awlaki's involvement in planning and directing attempts to murder Americans.
“He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010,” Mr. Obama said. “And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.”
Mr. Awlaki topped America’s target list after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed last spring in a daring special forces raid last spring.
Although the Obama administration has declared Mr. Awlaki as a “specially designated global terrorist,” the deliberate killing of a U.S. citizen by U.S military forces or – more likely a drone flown by Central Intelligence Agency operatives – will re-kindle the debate about the use of drones and other violent means to assassinate individuals overseas.
The radical cleric was regarded as a key al-Qaeda figure in the Arabian Peninsula. He was believed to have been behind several notable attempted terrorist attacks, including the so-called ‘underwear bomber’ who was tackled by passengers trying to ignite a bomb on board a jetliner landing at Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
His killing may boost Mr. Obama’s standing, as the raid that killed the long-fugitive al-Qaeda leader.
Mr. Awlaki, 39, was born in New Mexico but grew up in Virginia. He fled to Yemen in 2007 and has been actively hunted since. His death has been previously claimed on several occasions. He was also accused of inspiring the deranged gunman who opened fire on an army base in Fort Hood, and the failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square.
Although unconfirmed a statement from the Yemen foreign ministry said Mr. Awlaki and other individuals in a vehicle “was targeted and killed eight kilometres from the town of Khashef in the Province of Jawf, 140 km east of the capital Sanaa.”
There was no confirmation from the U.S. government.
With a file from The Associated Press