Anwar al-Awlaki: Senior Al-Qa'ida activist who was linked to terrorist atrocities including the attacks of 9/11

The radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen yesterday, was one of al-Qa'ida's most dangerous figures in their global terrorist network.

He was believed to have been linked to a series of attacks including 9/11, the shootings at Fort Hood in 2009 and the failed Christmas Day "underwear bomber" the same year.

Al-Awlaki, who had dual US-Yemeni citizenship, was killed yesterday morning five outside Kashef in the al-Jawf Province, 90 miles east of Sanaa, the capital, in what is believed to have been a manned air strike, although a drone attack has not been ruled out. Local tribal officials said that a two-car al-Qa'ida convoy had been targeted and destroyed.

His death is the most significant setback to the al-Qa'ida organisation since Osama bin Laden's assassination in May. Al-Awlaki was one of the few senior operatives schooled and orientated to western behaviour with an understanding of the western psyche. In recent years he had gone from mild criticism of his country to increasing vociferousness in his calls for Muslims to wage jihad against the US, propelling him towards the top of the Americans' "kill or capture" list and making him a target for assassination by US forces or CIA drones. His death is certain to deprive al-Qa'ida of one of its most powerful propaganda tools.

This designation as "one of the most dangerous men alive", as the UN Security Council referred to him, was a recognition that al-Awlaki had risen in the ranks of anti-Western Islamic extremism. His provocative rhetoric had become renowned on jihadi websites. With all the paraphernalia of an educated modern-day terrorist, al-Awlaki was able to strike anywhere in the world using online resources – not for nothing was he known as "the bin Laden of the internet". He ran a blog, had a Facebook page and had posted hundreds of videos of his sermons on YouTube, where he gained a wide audience of disenchanted Western Muslims who might otherwise have been beyond al Qa'ida's reach.

He was believed to have been the leader of al-Qa'ida foreign operations unit inside the Arabian Peninsula group, which has in recent years taken centre stage in the global campaign of jihad inspired by Bin Laden. US officials suggested that he could emerge as bin Laden's successor.

The son of a future Yemeni Agriculture Minister and university president, Anwar Nasser Abdullah Al-Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1971. His father, Nasser, was studying agricultural economics and the family lived in the US for another seven years before returning to Yemen. After studying Islam during his teenage years, al-Awlaki returned to the US in 1991, gaining a BSc in civil engineering from Colorado State University and a master's in education from San Diego State.

In 1994, al-Awlaki married a cousin from Yemen and took a part-time job as imam at the Denver Islamic Society. He later became imam at a mosque in Fort Collins, Colorado, before returning to San Diego in 1996, where he took charge of the city's Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque. During his four years there, his sermons were attended by at least two of the 9/11 hijackers, both of whom were also seen attending long meetings with the cleric.

In early 2001, he moved to the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, which was attended by a third hijacker. It later emerged that in 1998 and 1999, while serving as vice-president of an Islamic charity that the FBI described as "a front organisation to funnel money to terrorists", al-Awlaki was visited by Ziyad Khaleel, an al-Qaida operative, and an associate of Sheikh Omar Rahman, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to blow-up landmarks in New York.

In 2002, al-Awlaki left the US for the UK, where he gave a series of popular lectures to Muslim youths. However, unable to support himself, he returned to Yemen in early 2004 and lived in his ancestral village in the southern province of Shabwa with his wife, whom he married in 1994, and their children. He became a lecturer at al-Iman University, a Sunni religious school in Sanaa headed by Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, a cleric who was later designated a terrorist by the US and UN for his suspected links with al-Qaida.

In August 2006, al-Awlaki was detained by the Yemeni authorities, reportedly on charges relating to a plot to kidnap a US military attaché; he was jailed for 18 months. Following his release he became more overtly supportive of violence, railing against the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the killing of Muslims in covert operations in Pakistan and Yemen. He incited violence in a number of texts via his online communications and many pamphlets and CDs, including one entitled 44 Ways to Support Jihad; such material was found in the possession of several convicted English-speaking militants in Canada, the UK and US.

With recent attacks and attempted attacks on US soil, after investigation, al-Awlaki was soon credited with inspiring or directing a number ofplots – the shooting of 13 people inside the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the failed Christmas Day underwear bomber, the failed Times Square bombing and a plot in which two parcel bombs were hidden inside printer cartridges on US-bound planes (they were intercepted in the UK and Dubai).

His influence was also seen in plots to target British and European interests. In 2010, inspired by his sermons, Roshonara Choudhry was found guilty of the attempted murder of the MP Stephen Timms, who had voted for the invasion of Iraq, while a British Airways employee, Rajib Karim, was convicted in February 2011 of plotting attacks against the airline.

In November 2009, the Yemeni authorities put al-Awlaki on trial in absentia, charged with inciting violence against foreigners in connection with the murder the previous month of a French security guard at an oil company's compound. He went into hiding. In March and November 2010, al-Awlaki intensified his rhetoric with two videos; the first called for Muslims residing in the US to attack their country of residence, while the second called for the killing of Americans, claiming they were from the "party of devils". Weeks later, he survived an air strike in Shabwa province in which at least 30 militants were killed.

Anwar Nasser Abdullah al-Awlaki, lecturer, imam and Al-Qa'ida activist: born Las Cruces, New Mexico 22 April 1971; married 1994 (children); died Mar'rib, Yemen 30 September 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower