Drone attack eliminates extremist preacher on US kill-or-capture list


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The Independent Online

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemeni cleric identified by the United States as one of the most significant threats to its homeland security, was killed in Yemen yesterday in a targeted air strike.

The killing was hailed by President Barack Obama and other US officials as another crippling blow for al-Qa'ida, eliminating a key figure in the group's most active and dangerous affiliate.

His death, Mr Obama declared at a ceremony marking the departure of Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "is the latest milestone in our broader efforts to defeat al-Qa'ida." It had removed a man "whose hateful ideology was rejected by the vast majority of Muslims of every faith," and was "further proof that the group and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world", he added.

Awlaki was an inspirational figure in al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), spreading his extremist ideology to the world's disaffected Muslims, but particularly those in the West where his fluency in English gained him many followers.

His particular skill was in giving lone attackers the confidence to strike and he is linked to several attacks in America, including the fatal shooting of soldiers at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, by an army psychiatrist, and a failed attempt by a bomber to down a US airliner as it flew over Detroit nearly two years ago.

Al-Awlaki, a US citizen, was killed early yesterday morning by an American drone strike on his convoy some 90 miles from the capital Sanaa in the rugged Marib province that has provided a haven for al-Qa'ida militants. The cleric, who according to witnesses had stopped in the desert to eat breakfast moments before the attack, had been under observation for three weeks, US officials said.

Also killed in the strike was Sameer Khan, a Pakistani American who produced Inspire, the online publication that has been a source of inspiration for amateur plotters and has urged its followers to attack US targets.

Awlaki has long been in Washington's sights. Last year, Mr Obama added the extremist preacher to the CIA's "kill or capture" list, the first time that the White House has ordered the extrajudicial killing of a US citizen.

The US had identified AQAP, with "Awlaki as a leader within the organisation, as probably the most significant threat to the US homeland".