A Yemeni judge ordered police yesterday to find the radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki "dead or alive" after the al-Qa'ida-linked preacher failed to appear at a hastily convened trial for his role in the killing of foreigners.
Yemen is under heavy Western pressure to crack down on the country's al-Qa'ida offshoot after a scheme to send bombs through the mail in packages addressed to the US was thwarted a week ago. The group known as al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the plot, and Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, is one of its leading lights.
With his sudden trial and the arrest order, Yemen appears to be trying to show its American allies that it considers the cleric a serious threat. Judge Mohsen Alwan ordered Awlaki to be "arrested by force, dead or alive" after he failed to appear for the start of his trial on Tuesday. He was charged last week as a co-defendant in a surprise announcement as part of the trial of another man, Hisham Assem, who is accused of killing a Frenchman in an attack at a Sanaa oil compound last month.
Awlaki and a cousin, Othman al-Awlaki, were added as defendants in absentia. According to the prosecution, Othman al-Awlaki had put Assem indirectly in email contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. Assem has denied all charges and claimed he was tortured in detention to make false confessions. He repeated those claims yesterday.
The US has already authorised the CIA to capture or kill Awlaki, who has also been linked to the failed bombing of a US-bound plane in December 2009.
Awlaki is thought to be hiding in the mountains of southern Yemen, under the protection of his family and tribe.Reuse content