Anwar al-Awlaki: al Qaeda's rock star no more
September 30th, 2011
10:53 AM ET

Anwar al-Awlaki: al Qaeda's rock star no more

The death of Anwar al-Awlaki deprives al Qaeda of a leading propagandist and an inspirational figure to jihadists the world over.

His calm eloquence and fluent English turned al-Awlaki into a YouTube phenomenon, and his emergence as the ideological guide of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, put him at the heart of one of the most dangerous terror groups on earth. He became the spiritual mentor to would-be jihadists living in anonymous suburbs half a world away.

Al-Awlaki arrived in Yemen after spending much of his youth and adult life in the United States, where he studied in Colorado and was an imam at mosques in California and the Washington metro area. He even gave interviews in the aftermath of 9/11 decrying the terror attacks. But at some point he became disillusioned with his adopted country - perhaps because of a series of encounters with U.S. law enforcement over his alleged use of prostitutes. When he left in 2002 he took a unique understanding with him of the vulnerabilities of an open society, the sentiments of American Muslims and the opportunities of social media in the 21st century.

One such opportunity was online propaganda, best evidenced by AQAP's glossy periodical Inspire. The seventh edition was published this week, edited by another American jihadist in hiding in Yemen who had been attracted to the cause by al-Awlaki's teachings. That edition promised a forthcoming essay by al-Awlaki titled "Targeting Populations of Countries at War With Muslims."

It was al-Awlaki's favorite theme. Last year he called on American Muslims to rise up against their "oppression." In a video released in November 2010, al-Awlaki said there was no need to a fatwa to kill Americans. "Killing Satan does not require a fatwa," he said. "We have reached with them a situation of 'Either Us Or You.'" As always, he was careful to justify and explain his words through Quranic verses, which gave his sermons and speeches greater credibility among would-be jihadists.

According to Yemeni officials, al-Awlaki had become much more radical in 2007-08. By this time he was very active on Facebook. His DVDs were being attractively packaged and sold in the West. His YouTube followers ran into many thousands. And he was in e-mail contact with extremists in the United States and the Britain.

Two cases illustrate al-Awlaki's ability to attract followers online. The best known is the messages exchanged between him and U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is being tried for the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas. In subsequent interviews, al-Awlaki said Hasan had initiated e-mail correspondence with him in December 2008. Al Jazeera reported: "He was asking about killing U.S. soldiers and officers," says al-Awlaki. "His question was, is it legitimate" under Islamic law.

More than a dozen e-mails followed, with Hasan asking al-Awlaki about martyrdom, about when jihad is permissible (about which al-Awlaki had written volumes), the death of innocent bystanders in attacks. And after the shootings, al-Awlaki was quick to praise them. In the Al Jazeera interview, he calls the shooting "a heroic action."

"The operation had a military target inside America, and there's no dispute about that," says al-Awlaki, adding that the soldiers killed "were prepared and equipped to fight and kill oppressed Muslims." He also mocked U.S. intelligence for not picking up on the e-mail traffic.

The other case that illustrates al-Awlaki's reach involved a British Airways employee, Rajib Karim. In February this year a British court heard that al-Awlaki and Karim had been corresponding, via heavily encrypted software, in late 2009 and early 2010. In one message purported to be from al-Awlaki, the writer made clear where his priorities lay: "Our highest priority is the United States. Anything there, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the United Kingdom, would be our choice."

Al-Awlaki clearly saw an opportunity in Karim's employment at the airline. "I immediately wanted to contact you to tell you that my advice to you is to remain in your current position," al-Awlaki wrote. "Depending on what your role is and the amount of information you can get your hands on, you might be able to provide us with critical and urgent information and you may be able to play a crucial role."

He also sought details on "limitations and cracks" in present airport security systems, and told Karim he should train as British Airways cabin crew if possible. Al-Awlaki then asked, "Did any of the (brothers) you mentioned get training on X-ray machines or understand their limitations?"

Through the East African embassy attacks, the Bali resort attacks of 2002 and most obviously the 9/11 attacks, the al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden had become known for spectacular simultaneous attacks aimed at mass casualties. Al-Awlaki recognized that attacks of such magnitude would be difficult to repeat given enhancements in security and intelligence gathering. He and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula began to focus on smaller but highly disruptive attacks that would have a psychological and economic impact on the United States. Two such examples are the attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009 in the "underpants bomber" conspiracy; and the printer bomb plot from 2010.

Al-Awlaki boasted about the Christmas Day plot, saying that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the suspect who is now on trial, succeeded "even though it didn't cause the killing of one single person."

"They spent more than $40 billion, and a mujahed like Omar Farouq was able to infiltrate their security apparatus even though they claim he was under surveillance," he said in May 2010.

Similarly, in one exchange with Karim, he asked: "Is it possible to make false reports on security risks on airplanes and airports? Reports that would cause planes to be grounded and airports closed. ... This doesn't count for much but it does cause them some nuisance and loss."

As he became more prominent - and more closely associated with the operational side of al Qaeda - al-Awlaki escaped at least two attempts to kill him. The first was at the end of 2009, when a cruise missile struck a compound in a remote part of Yemen. More recently, an attack on a convoy in southern Yemen, believed to have been carried out by drones, killed several al Qaeda operatives but al-Awlaki again escaped injury. The inability of the Yemeni or U.S. governments to capture or kill him had begun to add to his mystique.

"I move freely in Yemen," he said in March 2010. "There is a support among my tribesmen. ... Even though they know they are in danger, they welcome me and greet me because they are righteous people."

No longer. We may never know whether one of these "righteous people" betrayed him or whether other intelligence finally led to his death, but al Qaeda has lost one of its principal flag-bearers.

More coverage of al-Awlaki from CNN's Security Clearance

soundoff (556 Responses)
  1. www.pharmaceptica.com

    erectile supplements https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 30, 2021 at 5:19 am | Reply
  2. pharmaceptica

    hydroxochloriquine https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 28, 2021 at 7:03 am | Reply
  3. pharmacepticacom

    hydroxychloroq https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  4. pharmacepticacom

    tadalafil peptides https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 20, 2021 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  5. I Fashion Styles

    Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to check it out. I'm definitely loving the information. I'm bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Great blog and wonderful style and design.

    https://www.ifashionstyles.com

    June 16, 2021 at 4:30 am | Reply
  6. pharmacepticacom

    hydrochloroqine https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 16, 2021 at 4:29 am | Reply
  7. Fashion Styles

    Along with every thing that seems to be developing within this particular area, your perspectives tend to be somewhat radical. However, I appologize, but I do not subscribe to your entire strategy, all be it exhilarating none the less. It would seem to us that your comments are not totally validated and in actuality you are yourself not totally certain of the argument. In any case I did appreciate reading it.

    https://www.ifashionstyles.com

    June 15, 2021 at 11:59 am | Reply
  8. https://www.songmanhits.com

    Best view i have ever seen !

    https://maps.google.com.jm/url?q=https://www.songmanhits.com

    June 6, 2021 at 12:37 am | Reply
  9. https://shiatsu-web.com

    Best view i have ever seen !

    https://maps.google.com.au/url?q=https://shiatsu-web.com

    June 3, 2021 at 7:41 am | Reply
  10. Fashion Beauty

    An interesting discussion is price comment. I believe that you need to write more on this matter, it may not be a taboo topic but typically people are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

    https://www.kayswell.com

    May 29, 2021 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  11. https://www.shinsen-mart.com

    Best view i have ever seen !

    https://www.adminer.org/redirect/?url=https://www.shinsen-mart.com

    May 29, 2021 at 5:29 am | Reply
  12. CleplePewCred

    https://tadalafilww.com/ prescription tadalafil online tadalafil online where to buy generic cialis online safely cost tadalafil generic

    May 27, 2021 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  13. apposyattance

    https://tadalafilol.com/ prescription tadalafil online buy tadalafil side effects of tadalafil tadalafil dosage

    May 27, 2021 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  14. spearfDrore

    where to buy generic cialis online safely side effects for tadalafil where to buy tadalafil on line where to buy cialis without prescription https://cttadalafil.com/

    May 27, 2021 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  15. keespamebpaxy

    https://tadalafilol.com/ buy cialis where to buy cialis without prescription side effects of tadalafil tadalafil online

    May 27, 2021 at 6:48 am | Reply
  16. apposyattance

    tadalafil generic where to buy https://tadagatadalafil.com/ – cialis without a prescription buy cialis where to buy generic cialis online safely https://apcalisetadalafil.com/

    May 26, 2021 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  17. keespamebpaxy

    generic tadalafil from uk https://cttadalafil.com/ – tadalafil blood pressure what is tadalafil side effects of tadalafil tadalafil generic where to buy

    May 26, 2021 at 8:14 am | Reply
  18. CleplePewCred

    cialis at canadian pharmacy https://cttadalafil.com/ – tadalafil cost walmart buy tadalafil tadalafil dosage https://apcalisetadalafil.com/

    May 25, 2021 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  19. apposyattance

    https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ prescription tadalafil online https://tadalafilww.com/ – cheapest tadalafil cost what is tadalafil

    May 25, 2021 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  20. spearfDrore

    buy tadalafil https://apcalisetadalafil.com/ canada generic tadalafil where to buy cialis without prescription tadalafil order online no prescription

    May 25, 2021 at 10:55 am | Reply
  21. keespamebpaxy

    lowest price cialis https://tadalafilol.com/ – tadalafil generic side effects of tadalafil buy cialis pills tadalafil

    May 25, 2021 at 5:54 am | Reply
  22. Greryclilteta

    cialis without prescription canada generic tadalafil cheap generic cialis for sale buy cialis pills https://tadalafilol.com/

    May 25, 2021 at 5:54 am | Reply
  23. cyclosporine

    buy cyclomune buy cyclosporine usa

    May 25, 2021 at 1:35 am | Reply
  24. combigan

    combigan eye drops 2% combigan uk

    May 24, 2021 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  25. apposyattance

    https://apcalisetadalafil.com/ best price usa tadalafil where to get tadalafil buy tadalis tadalafil order online no prescription

    May 24, 2021 at 10:32 am | Reply
  26. spearfDrore

    tadalafil cialis best price usa tadalafil where to buy generic cialis online safely generic cialis online fast shipping https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ – tadalafil daily online

    May 24, 2021 at 6:59 am | Reply
  27. Greryclilteta

    https://cttadalafil.com/ where to buy cialis without prescription tadalafil online with out prescription tadalafil cost in canada what is tadalafil

    May 24, 2021 at 2:27 am | Reply
  28. I Fashion Styles

    Thanks for your submission. I also think that laptop computers have gotten more and more popular today, and now tend to be the only kind of computer included in a household. The reason being at the same time that they're becoming more and more affordable, their computing power keeps growing to the point where they are as powerful as pc's from just a few in years past.

    https://www.ifashionstyles.com

    May 23, 2021 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  29. apposyattance

    cost of cialis https://tadagatadalafil.com/ cialis without a prescription cost tadalafil generic cheapest tadalafil cost

    May 23, 2021 at 11:19 am | Reply
  30. Hairstyles Vip

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my website =). We could have a link exchange agreement between us!

    https://www.hairstylesvip.com

    May 19, 2021 at 10:09 am | Reply
  31. Edgardo Older

    Free Porn Movie Download, HD Porn Clip Download. 4K Porn Free Download

    https://clean4u.ie/

    May 18, 2021 at 9:09 am | Reply
  32. stornobrzinol

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you're talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my web site =). We could have a link exchange arrangement between us!

    http://www.stornobrzinol.com/

    May 16, 2021 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  33. brimonidine

    brimonidine brimonidine generic

    May 15, 2021 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  34. storno brzinol

    I’ve read a few excellent stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much effort you set to create this sort of wonderful informative website.

    http://www.stornobrzinol.com/

    May 15, 2021 at 8:37 am | Reply
  35. Hairstyles Vip

    Thanks for your write-up on this web site. From my personal experience, periodically softening upwards a photograph may possibly provide the photo shooter with a little bit of an artsy flare. Often times however, that soft cloud isn't what exactly you had in your mind and can sometimes spoil an otherwise good snapshot, especially if you thinking about enlarging them.

    https://www.hairstylesvip.com

    May 11, 2021 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  36. tendances du coronavirus - france

    chloraquine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquinine

    May 8, 2021 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  37. plaquenil

    plaquenil vision problems https://hydroplaquenil.com/# plaquenil eye

    May 5, 2021 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  38. dapoxetine

    dapoxetine 1mg priligy pills

    May 5, 2021 at 12:50 am | Reply
  39. Freebies

    A different issue is really that video gaming became one of the all-time greatest forms of excitement for people of any age. Kids participate in video games, and also adults do, too. The actual XBox 360 has become the favorite games systems for those who love to have a huge variety of games available to them, along with who like to learn live with people all over the world. Thank you for sharing your notions.

    https://www.cravefreebies.com

    May 4, 2021 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  40. avana

    avanafil dosage avana

    May 2, 2021 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  41. is it legal to bring viagra back to canada from mexico

    generic viagra order canada https://canadaviagrastore.com/ viagra from canada

    May 1, 2021 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  42. Freebies

    I must point out my affection for your kind-heartedness for persons who require help with your theme. Your special commitment to getting the solution all over had been particularly functional and have usually enabled associates like me to arrive at their ambitions. Your new valuable hints and tips can mean a great deal a person like me and still more to my office colleagues. With thanks; from all of us.

    https://www.cravefreebies.com

    May 1, 2021 at 10:58 am | Reply
  43. canadian pharmacy 5 mg daily cialis

    canadian generic cialis 20mg https://canadacialisstore.com/ cialis at canadian pharmacy

    April 30, 2021 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  44. nivaquine

    chloroquine tab https://aralenchloroquinex.com/# is chloroquine available over the counter

    April 28, 2021 at 7:43 am | Reply
  45. hydroxychloroquine buy

    hcqs medicine https://hydroxychloroquinemg.com/# favipiravir

    April 28, 2021 at 6:25 am | Reply
  46. Fashion Styles

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly. I am quite sure I will learn lots of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

    https://www.ifashionstyles.com

    April 27, 2021 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  47. alprostadil cost per dose

    alprostadil nasal spray https://alprostadildrugs.com/ how to administer transurethral alprostadil

    April 25, 2021 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  48. canadian weight loss pills

    canadian customs pills vitamins https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian diet pills

    April 25, 2021 at 2:26 am | Reply
1 2 3

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.