Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric, killed in Yemen strike; “He’s dead,” U.S. officials confirm

Laura Rozen

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Islamic preacher turned propaganda chief for al-Qaida's Yemeni affiliate, has been killed in an air strike, Yemen's Defense Ministry claimed Friday. Four U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed al-Awlaki's death, but provided no further details.

"He's dead," a senior U.S. official told The Envoy on condition of anonymity Friday.

"I can confirm that Anwar al-Awlaki is dead," a second senior U.S. official said Friday, adding the administration would offer further details shortly.

In a statement to journalists, Yemen's foreign press office said al-Awlaki "was targeted and killed 8 KM (about 5 miles) from the town of Khashef in the Province of Jawf," about 80 miles east of the Yemeni capital of Sana, CBS News reported Friday.

Arabic-language Al-Arabiya television network cited Yemeni "tribal sources as saying suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles Friday at a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying al-Awlaki and his guards," the CBS report said.

The Associated Press intelligence correspondent Kimberly Dozier was told by a U.S. government source that al-Awlaki was killed in a joint CIA-Joint Special Operations command (JSOC) operation using drones and jets, an AP colleague said.

Al-Awlaki had been targeted by earlier U.S. drone strikes, including on May 5 that missed him, according to previous reports.

The United States also thought it had a "good chance" to hit al-Awlaki earlier this month, on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, a senior Obama administration official told ABC News Friday. "We waited, but it never materialized," the senior official said.

"They were waiting for the right opportunity to get him away from any civilians," he added of Friday's successful strike.

The New Mexico-born al-Awlaki, of Yemeni descent, preached at mosques in San Diego and Virginia attended by some of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks. In November 2001, Awlaki, then serving as imam of the Falls Church, Virginia-based Dar Al-hijra Islamic Center, was invited to conduct a chat with readers of the Washington Post, on the topic of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He also then served as the Muslim chaplin at George Washington University, where he was pursuing a doctorate in human resource development.

Soon after that, increasingly the subject of law enforcement scrutiny over his past close contacts with two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, al-Awlaki fled to his ancestral home of Yemen. His fluent English and charismatic sermons, propagated on the Internet, turned him into a leading international propagandist for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). U.S. officials describe the al-Qaida Yemeni branch as currently the most active terrorist group pursuing attacks against the United States homeland. Al-Awlaki was placed on the U.S. list of terrorists to be targeted for kill or capture last year, then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress.

Several recent suspects in terrorist attacks targeting the United States have reportedly cited al-Awlaki and his fiery sermons as a key radicalizing influence. Among them: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the wealthy, Nigerian-born London university student who was charged with attempting to blow up a Christmas Day 2009 flight to Detroit; and Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 fellow soldiers in a 2009 attack on troops at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Al-Awlaki's death comes a week after Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh abruptly returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia, where he had been receiving medical treatment since a June attack on his presidential palace.