Obama orders US-born cleric to be shot on sight

White House targets Yemen-based preacher it says is head of al-Qa'ida's operations in Arabian peninsula

American military and undercover agents abroad have been given explicit authorisation by the Obama administration to kill a US-born Muslim cleric suspected of plotting terror attacks against the United States from his base in Yemen, where he is thought to be hiding, officials said yesterday.

The extraordinary order, approved by the National Security Council operating out of the White House, concerns Anwar al-Awlaki, a preacher who was born in New Mexico. He became popular with some conservative Muslim groups both in the US and in Britain before vanishing into Yemen.

There does not appear to be a precedent for the US to target one of its own citizens for possible assassination, at least not since the terror attacks of September 2001. The decision to target 38-year-old Awlaki – he is to be captured or killed – was reported by several US media outlets and was confirmed anonymously by some senior officials yesterday. "We would be remiss if we didn't find ways to pursue someone who is a serious threat to this country and has plotted against Americans," one official told CNN when asked about Awlaki.

Awlaki, whose parents are from Yemen, rose to prominence as a speaker in San Diego, California, in the late 1990s before moving in 2000 to become a preacher at a mosque on the outskirts of Washington DC. He fled the US in 2002, and spent some of the next two years building a following in Britain.

US terror investigators have become convinced that since going into hiding in Yemen, Awlaki has become highly active as the effective chief of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate in Yemen and Saudi Arabia to the main terror network based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The focus on Awlaki intensified after links were found between him and Major Nidal Hassan, who was charged with the killing of 13 people at the Fort Hood army base in Texas last year, and with the young Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

That the Obama administration might go so far as to green-light the assassination of an American to combat terror was first signalled by the Director of Intelligence, Dennis Blair in February. "We take direct actions against terrorists," he said at a congressional hearing. "If we think direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that." He did not name Awlaki at the time, however.

Former president Gerald Ford signed the law that made political assassinations illegal in the US. However, an exemption can be made if the target is considered a military enemy of the American people. "The United States works, exactly as the American people expect, to overcome threats to their security, and this individual – through his own actions – has become one," one US official told the New York Times. "Awlaki knows what he's done, and he knows he won't be met with handshakes and flowers. None of this should surprise anyone."

Awlaki is thought to have first met Abdulmutallab in London when the Nigerian was studying there. From information given by Abdulmutallab after his arrest on Christmas Day in Detroit, it seems that Awlaki was closely involved in his training in Yemen precisely for the attack on the Delta airliner.

Since the Fort Hood shooting, officials have found emails between the accused, Hassan, and Awlaki. In one, Hassan allegedly writes: "I can't wait to join you in the afterlife". It also appears that Hassan, who worked at a Washington hospital before transferring last year to Texas, attended the mosque in Virginia where Awlaki was briefly a preacher. The FBI first began tracking Awlaki in the mid-1990s in San Diego, where he was arrested several times for alleged solicitation of prostitutes. The scrutiny multiplied when it was found that two of the 9/11 hijackers had attended sermons given by Awlaki.

He is thought to be in hiding in a mountainous region, but he has continued to get his message out via the internet. Fluent in English, Awlaki, who even has a Facebook page, is unusual among radical clerics in being able to nurture his following among conservative young Muslims in the US and Britain.

Anwar al-Awlaki: In his own words

The following words by Anwar al-Awlaki are taken from his lectures, pamphlets, blogs and website:

*The ballot has failed us but the bullet has not.

* My recommendation would be for my brothers who are Pakistan [sic] to give support physically and financially for their brothers in Afghanistan... we are talking about a stage where this support is obligatory and not recommended or voluntary, and when something is an obligation it becomes a sin and a shortcoming by not being a part of it.

* The Taliban paid the price for offering a safe haven for the foreign mujahideen: they lost their government. But that is not a defeat but a victory, because in the eyes of Allah you have won, no matter what the worldly costs are, if you have held on firmly to your religion, and you have lost, no matter what the worldly gains are, if you have wavered in your religion. We should open our houses for the mujahideen among us and we should offer them the support they need.

* Preparing for Jihad is obligatory... The issue is so critical that if arms training is not possible in your country then it is worth the time and money to travel to another country to train if you can.

* If a Muslim kills each and every civilian disbeliever on the face of the earth he is still a Muslim and we cannot side with the disbelievers against him.

* The hatred of kuffar [non-Muslims] is a central element of our military creed. We need to realise that Allah will not grant us victory as long as we still have some love towards his enemies in our hearts.

* What Jihad needs is mujahideen who have the ability to walk for long hours, to run for long distances (important for guerrilla warfare), to sprint (important for urban warfare), and to climb mountains.

Source: The Centre for Social Cohesion, a British think-tank

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive - Manchester City Centre

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency wo...

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor