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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Planning Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are currently looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Media & Advertising Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national business publishi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Service Desk Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity to join a p...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor / Assistant Quantity Surveyor

£23698 - £30978 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This not-for-profit company man...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones