Updated 1:30 p.m. ET | White House spokesman Jay Carney said the strike on al-Awlaki was part of a “sustained effort to continue to put pressure on al-Qaida” and that it was a “milestone” — but not the end of the administration’s pursuit of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Carney declined to speak on the circumstances of his death, but said that killing al-Awlaki removed someone “directly involved in plotting terrorist attacks against the United States.”
Carney also praised the partnership with the Yemeni government, and said it was important to continue cooperating to target extremists in the country.
Updated 11:45 a.m. ET | In remarks at Ft. Myer Army base in Arlington, Va. Friday morning, President Obama called al-Awlaki’s death a severe blow to al-Qaida and praised the efforts of intelligence officials and cooperation with Yemeni officials for the successful strike.
“This is further proof that al-Qaida and its affiliates will have no safe haven anywhere in the world,” the president said.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a high-level U.S.-born cleric linked to al-Qaida, was killed in Yemen Friday, according to U.S. and Yemeni officials.
He is believed to have been the target of a U.S.-airstrike on his convoy in a mountainous area of Yemen, but officials have not confirmed the circumstances of his death. Al-Awlaki, who was born in the United States, was considered a recruiter for al-Qaida, posting sermons and videos online in English and calling for attacks on Americans. Several of his operatives are believed to have also been killed.
According to the Associated Press:
“The 40-year-old al-Awlaki had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Barack Obama in April 2010 – making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn’t harmed.”
Al-Awlaki had been tied to a series of terror plots, including the Christmas 2009 plan to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit, a failed plot to send explosive printer cartridges on cargo planes, and the attempted Times Square car bombing in May of 2010. He had corresponded with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was responsible for killing 13 people in the Ft. Hood shootings in November of 2009.
Al-Awlaki was a leader of the offshoot known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in eastern Yemen, which has targeted both the Saudi and Yemeni governments as well as American interests.
The BBC provides a profile and timeline of al-Awlaki’s life, including his time in the United States and rise to prominence as a cleric.
Born in New Mexico, al-Awlaki was the cleric of a mosque in Falls Church, Va., which he left in 2002.
“Along with the time we spent with al-Awlaki at the mosque, we also visited his home, and drank tea and snacked on nuts and dried fruit while seated on the carpet in his comfortable, book-lined basement in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. A tall man, the imam had to fold his long bony legs like a grasshopper to join me on the floor. We talked about world history, U.S. relations with Muslim countries, and speculated on how the coming era would be shaped by the terror attacks. Remember, the ruins in lower Manhattan were still smoldering, American forces hadn’t yet invaded Afghanistan, and the long struggle in Iraq was far in the future.”
Excerpts of an October 2001 sermon by al-Awlaki:
Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that the killing of al-Awlaki likely won’t make much of a difference in al-Qaida’s ability to recruit followers and plan attacks, judging from the past killings of other suspected terrorists Abu Ali al-Harithi and Ahmed Hijazi:
“While there was some evidence from captured signals intelligence that al-Qaeda was shocked by the Predator strike, the killing of al-Harithi and his cohorts in no way deterred the international terrorist organization from conducting future attacks, as was demonstrated by the steady al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorist bombings in Tunisia, Istanbul, London, Malindi, Kenya, and elsewhere.”
Resource: Read about the hunt for more al-Qaida operatives.