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
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

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