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Focus on Islamism
Thursday 24th December 2009
Has al-Qaeda theorist Anwar al-Awlaki been killed?

BY SHIRAZ MAHER

Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda theoretician with links to three of the 9/11 terrorists and who recently inspired the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, has allegedly been killed by an American drone attack in Yemen.

Reuters reports:

SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch on Thursday, and an American Muslim preacher linked to the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base may also have died, a Yemeni security official said.

Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri, were believed to be among 30 militants killed in the dawn operation in the eastern province of Shabwa, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may also have died in the air strike which targeted a meeting of militants planning attacks on Yemeni and foreign oil and economic targets, he said.

If all the deaths are confirmed, the air strike would appear to have struck a severe blow against AQAP, seen as the most dangerous regional offshoot of Osama bin Laden's network.

"Anwar al-Awlaki is suspected to be dead," the official said of the cleric who was on the run in Yemen, where he was on the government's most-wanted list of terrorist suspects.

If true, this will be a major setback for al-Qaeda. Here's how Charles Allen, former under-secretary of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, described him:

[Awlaki is an] al-Qa'ida supporter, and former spiritual leader to three of the September 11th hijackers Anwar al-Awlaki-who targets U.S. Muslims with radical online lectures encouraging terrorist attacks from his new home in Yemen.

Following the attack at Fort Hood by Hasan, Awlaki described him as a ‘hero'. Click here to read the full encomium he showered on Major Hasan. Of course, it has now transpired that Awlaki was in repeated contact with Hasan, providing him with theological and ideological support. Just a few days ago Awlaki boasted that he told Hasan it would be valid under Islamic law to attack his fellow soldiers and countrymen. He confirmed as much in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, saying:

Yes, I played a role in guiding his ideology, but nothing beyond that

This is where Awlaki's real strength lay. He was the most eloquent and charismatic English-speaking advocate for al-Qaeda, projecting and proliferating their message to Western audiences - and he was good at it too.

Following the Fort Hood attack, this blog - along with our friends at the Spittoon and Harry's Place - launched a wide ranging investigation into Awlaki's extensive network of UK-based supporters. It ruffled quite a few feathers.

They must be mourning his loss today. Doesn't your heart just bleed for them?

 
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About Focus on Islamism

Focus on Islamism is a blog dedicated to analysing and exposing the modern ideological phenomenon known as Islamism.

Shiraz Maher is a writer and broadcaster.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is a PhD student at King's College, London.  He has contributed to various online and printed publications including, The Daily Telegraph, Lebanon's Daily Star, Standpoint and NOWLebanon. 

To contact the authors, click here

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