Since 9/11, the CIA’s targeted killings list has had names like Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar on it, and has never included an American citizen. That changed recently, when President Obama authorised the inclusion of Anwar al-Awlaki to the list of targets who should be either captured or killed.
Today, news reports have confirmed that the Obama Administration have authorised the inclusion of Awlaki on the list, although it is likely that this actually happened in January.
This signals that American security services now have enough information to prove that not only has Awlaki been inciting terrorism, but he has taken an active role in plots. According to the New York Times:
“The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words,” said an American official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke of the classified counterterrorism measures on the condition of anonymity. “He’s gotten involved in plots.”
The official added: “The United States works, exactly as the American people expect, to overcome threats to their security, and this individual – through his own actions – has become one. Awlaki knows what he’s done, and he knows he won’t be met with handshakes and flowers. None of this should surprise anyone.”
Awlaki began openly supporting the al-Qaeda jihad around 2005, when he gave a lecture series on the works of the Saudi jihadist Yusuf al ‘Uyayree. Uyayree wrote one of the most important jihadist texts of the modern era known as Thawaabit Ala’ Darb Al-Jihad (‘The Constants of Jihad) and Awlaki delivered a lecture series based on the book which includes discussions on how jihad is primarily a physical, military endeavour that must be waged all over the globe. This is also the same year in which Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, first came in contact with Awlaki while studying Arabic at al-Eman University in Sana’a, Yemen. Abdulmutallab is thought to have been inspired to carry out the operation by Awlaki, who may have also played a direct role in the plot.
Although killing Awlaki will stop him from directly taking part in plots, his lectures are already widely available and have been proven to incite people to terrorism. His death will not stop this, and capturing him would prove much more useful, particularly to those who are trying to understand the process of radicalisation, and how people like Abdulmutallab moved from rigid Salafism to al-Qaeda jihadism. Interrogations with Awlaki about this and other issues would add much needed data to a subject that Western governments have only recently begun to take a serious interest in.