(Update: The U.S. airstrike that rained Hellfire missiles on al-Awlaki was run by the U.S. military's elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, the same unit that got bin Laden, the AP reported.
Friday's successful kill was the result of counterterrorism cooperation between Yemen and the U.S. that has dramatically increased in recent weeks, even as Yemen has plunged deeper into turmoil as protesters try to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, U.S. officials said.
Apparently trying to cling to power by holding his American allies closer, Saleh has opened the taps in cooperation against al-Qaida. U.S. officials said the Yemenis also have allowed the U.S. to gather more intelligence on al-Awlaki's movements and to fly more armed drone and aircraft missions over its territory than ever before.)
(CNSNews.com) - The Yemen Defense Ministry reported early Friday morning that U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who used the Internet to recruit English-speaking radicals, has been killed along with some of his bodyguards in Yemen.
No details were immediately given when the news broke around 4:40 a.m. Washington time.
Yemeni security officials told the Associated Press that al-Awlaki was killed in an airstrike that targeted an al-Qaida convoy about 40 miles from Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia on Friday morning.
President Barack Obama is expected to comment on the Awlaki kill when he speaks Friday morning at the swearing-in of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, Awlaki has been on the FBI’s radar screen since at least 1999 when, according to the 9/11 Commission report, the FBI learned that “he may have been contacted by a possible procurement agent for bin Laden.”
The New Mexico-born Awlaki, who was allegedly linked to three of the 9/11 hijackers through mosques he ran in San Diego and Virginia, left the U.S. in 2002, eventually settling in Yemen where he spent 16 months in detention.
After his release in late 2007 he began using a Web site (since shut down) to comment on news events, review books, answer questions and post audio lectures under such titles as “Allah is preparing us for victory” and “The dust will never settle down.”
Awlaki’s reach into Muslim communities in English-speaking countries was a major concern for law enforcement agencies.
In an AQAP video released in May, he described as his “students” both Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army major accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian would-be bomber of a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009.
In a posting on his Web site after the Fort Hood massacre, Awlaki praised Hasan, calling him “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.”
Awlaki’s online lectures reportedly motivated a group of American Muslims of Somali descent who traveled to Somalia to fight alongside Islamists, and a 2008 trial of foreign-born Muslims who plotted to attack Fort Dix, N.J., heard an informant testify that an Awlaki lecture had inspired some of the group to target U.S. soldiers.
Indian security officials reported last year that in claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks there, jihadists were citing Awlaki lectures.
Indian-based security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman said that while the poor command of English of bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda terrorists had hindered their communication with English speaking followers, Awlaki did not have that problem.
“Under the guidance of Awlaki, the AQAP is seeking to capitalize on the interest of self-radicalized elements in the English-speaking world to take to jihad,” he said.
Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, a research analyst at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, said that with his good grasp of English Awlaki was able to expand his influence to Southeast Asia, where Muslims are generally well-versed in the language.
“Awlaki has his speeches revolve around the notion that Muslims are being attacked and there is thus the need for self defense,” he said. They highlight conflicts in Muslim areas, along with Islamic verses that are “misinterpreted and devoid of … contextual significance.”
What makes his propaganda effective, Yasin said, was the use of the Internet.