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Homeland Security

American al-Qaida Leader Killed in Yemen

September 30, 2011

Elizabeth Arrott | Cairo

Officials in the United States and Yemen say radical U.S. born cleric Anwar al Awlaki has been killed, in what media reports say was an American airstrike in Yemen. The death of the popular, online Islamist leader could prove a blow to al-Qaida's efforts to increase its international following.

The Defense Ministry's initial statement Friday said Awlaki was killed along with some of his companions. Yemen media said an attack on the group was carried out in the north of the country, an account seconded by tribal leaders in the area.

Reports say U.S. aircraft were used in the mission. The U.S. has previously conducted drone attacks against al-Qaida targets in Yemen, as concerns grew that extremists would exploit the country's political unrest.

Awlaki, tied to the local terror affiliate al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was believed to have been the target of a drone attack that killed two suspected militants in May. Awlaki also escaped an air attack that killed some 30 others last year.

The U.S.-born extremist has had the rare distinction of being an American approved for killing without trial by the U.S. government. He has been suspected of involvement in a variety of terrorist activities, including a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airplane in 2009, and a deadly attack by a U.S. army officer at a Texas military base the same year.

While he is thought to have had a direct advisory role in those attacks, much of his influence has been inspirational, including a failed bomb attack in New York's Time Square.

An internet sensation, Awlaki attracted a loyal following via You Tube lectures, a blog and Facebook. Born in New Mexico, he later served as an Imam in several U.S. mosques, including one in San Diego, California, frequented by two of the men involved in the September, 2011 terror attacks on the United States.

His wide reach over the past few years came as the founder of the main al-Qaida group, Osama bin Laden retreated from the world stage, in hiding from U.S. forces that ultimately killed him earlier this year. Awlaki's charisma led some in Western intelligence circles to believe him more dangerous than the current main al-Qaida leader, Ayman al Zawahiri.



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