Top al-Qaida cleric killed
SANAA, Yemen — An American-born cleric killed in Yemen played a “significant operational role” in plotting and inspiring attacks on the United States, U.S. officials said Friday, as they disclosed detailed intelligence to justify the killing of a U.S. citizen.
Anwar al-Awlaki was killed early Friday in a strike on his convoy carried out by a joint operation of the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, according to counterterrorism officials. Al-Awlaki had been under observations for three weeks while they waited for the right opportunity to strike.
President Barack Obama said al-Awlaki’s death “is a major blow to al-Qaida’s most active operational affiliate” and that it “marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaida.”
“This is further proof that al-Qaida and its affiliates will have no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said, adding that Awlaki’s death was a result of the government of Yemen joining international efforts against the militants.
He spoke Friday at a retirement ceremony at Fort Myer, Va., for Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki’s involvement in anti-U.S. operations, including the attempted “underwear” bombing on Dec. 25, 2009, of a U.S.-bound aircraft. The official said al-Awlaki specifically directed the man accused of trying to bomb the Detroit-bound plane to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.
The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages containing copier ink cartridges mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.
The U.S. and counterterrorism officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.
Al-Awlaki is the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden’s death in May. He was killed by the same U.S. military unit that got bin Laden.