Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled al-Aulaqi, al-Awlaqi; Arabic: أنور العولقي Anwar al-‘Awlaqī; April 21, 1971 – September 30, 2011) was an American and Yemeni imam and Islamic lecturer. U.S. government officials allege that, in his position as a senior recruiter and motivator, he was centrally involved in planning terrorist operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and he became the first United States citizen to be targeted and killed by a U.S. drone strike. President Barack Obama ordered the strike. His son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (a 16-year-old American citizen), was killed in a U.S. drone strike two weeks later. On January 29, 2017, Al-Awlaki's 8-year-old daughter, Nawar Al-Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. commando attack in Yemen which was ordered by Obama's successor, Donald Trump. With a blog, a Facebook page, the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, and many YouTube videos, al-Awlaki was described by Saudi news station Al Arabiya as the "bin Laden of the Internet". After a request from the U.S. Congress, in November 2010 Google removed many of al-Awlaki's videos from its websites. According to The New York Times, al-Awlaki's public statements and videos have been more influential in inspiring acts of terrorism in the wake of his assassination than before his death.
As imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia (2001–02), al-Awlaki spoke with and preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers, who were al-Qaeda members. In 2001, he presided at the funeral of the mother of Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who later e-mailed him extensively in 2008–09 before the Fort Hood shootings. During al-Awlaki's later radical period after 2006–07, when he went into hiding, he was associated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted the 2009 Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner. Al-Awlaki was allegedly involved in planning Abdulmutallab's attack.
The Yemeni government tried him in absentia in November 2010, for plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda. A Yemeni judge ordered that he be captured "dead or alive". Some U.S. officials said that in 2009, al-Awlaki was promoted to the rank of "regional commander" within al-Qaeda. Others felt that Nasir al-Wuhayshi still held this rank and that al-Awlaki was an influential member in the group. He repeatedly called for jihad against the United States.
In April 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama placed al-Awlaki on a list of people whom the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were authorized to kill because of terrorist activities. Al-Awlaki's father and civil rights groups challenged the order in court. Al-Awlaki was believed to be in hiding in southeast Yemen in the last years of his life. The U.S. deployed unmanned aircraft (drones) in Yemen to search for and kill him, firing at and failing to kill him at least once, before succeeding on September 30, 2011. Two weeks later, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver, Colorado, was also killed by a CIA-led drone strike in Yemen. Nasser al-Awlaki, Anwar's father, released an audio recording condemning the killings of his son and grandson as senseless murders. In June 2014, a previously classified memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Justice was released, justifying al-Awlaki's death as a lawful act of war. Some civil liberties advocates have described the incident as "an extrajudicial execution" that breached al-Awlaki's right to due process, including a trial.
Al-Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1971 to parents from Yemen, while his father, Nasser al-Awlaki, was doing graduate work at U.S. universities. His father was a Fulbright Scholar who earned a master's degree in agricultural economics at New Mexico State University in 1971, received a doctorate at the University of Nebraska, and worked at the University of Minnesota from 1975 to 1977. Nasser al-Awlaki served as Agriculture Minister in Ali Abdullah Saleh's government. He was also President of Sana'a University. Yemen's Prime Minister from 2007 to 2011, Ali Mohammed Mujur, was a relative.
The family returned to Yemen in 1978, when al-Awlaki was seven years old. He lived there for 11 years, and studied at Azal Modern School.
In 1991, al-Awlaki returned to the U.S. to attend college. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994), where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. He attended the university on a foreign student visa and a government scholarship from Yemen, claiming to be born in that country, according to a former U.S. security agent.
In 1993, while still a college student in Colorado State's civil engineering program, al-Awlaki visited Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation. He spent some time training with the mujahideen who were fighting the Soviets. He was depressed by the country's poverty and hunger, and "wouldn't have gone with al-Qaeda," according to friends from Colorado State, who said he was profoundly affected by the trip. Mullah Mohammed Omar did not form the Taliban until 1994. When al-Awlaki returned to campus, he showed increased interest in religion and politics.
Al-Awlaki studied Education Leadership at San Diego State University, but did not complete his degree. He worked on a doctorate in Human Resource Development at The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development from January to December 2001.
In 1994, al-Awlaki married a cousin from Yemen, and began service as a part-time imam of the Denver Islamic Society. In 1996, he was chastised by an elder for encouraging a Saudi student to fight in Chechnya against the Russians. He left Denver soon after, moving to San Diego.
From 1996–2000, al-Awlaki was imam of the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque in San Diego, California, where he had a following of 200–300 people. U.S. officials later alleged that Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, attended his sermons and personally met him during this period. Hazmi later lived in Northern Virginia and attended al-Awlaki's mosque there. The 9/11 Commission Report said that the hijackers "reportedly respected [al-Awlaki] as a religious figure". While in San Diego, al-Awlaki volunteered with youth organizations, fished, discussed his travels with friends, and created a popular and lucrative series of recorded lectures.
In August 1996 and in April 1997, al-Awlaki was arrested in San Diego and charged with soliciting prostitutes. The first time, in 1996, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined $400 and required to attend informational sessions about AIDS. The second time, in 1997, he pleaded guilty and was fined $240, ordered to perform 12 days of community service, and received three years' probation. From November 2001 to January 2002 the FBI observed him visiting a number of prostitutes, and interviewed them, establishing that he had paid for sex acts. No prosecution was brought.
In 1998 and 1999, he served as vice-president for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare. In 2004, the FBI described this group as a "front organization to funnel money to terrorists". Although the FBI investigated al-Awlaki from June 1999 through March 2000 for possible links to Hamas, the Bin Laden contact Ziyad Khaleel, and a visit by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, it did not find sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. Al-Awlaki told reporters that he resigned from leading the San Diego mosque "after an uneventful four years," and took a brief sabbatical, traveling overseas to various countries.
In January 2001 al-Awlaki returned to the U.S., settling in the Washington metropolitan area. There, he was imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque near Falls Church, Virginia. He led academic discussions frequented by FBI Director of Counter-Intelligence for the Middle East Gordon M. Snow. Al-Awlaki also served as the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, where he was hired by Esam Omeish. Omeish said in 2004 that he was convinced that al-Awlaki was not involved in terrorism.
His proficiency as a public speaker and command of the English language helped him attract followers who did not speak Arabic. "He was the magic bullet", according to the mosque spokesman Johari Abdul-Malik. "He had everything all in a box." "He had an allure. He was charming."
When police investigating the 9/11 attacks raided the Hamburg apartment of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they found the telephone number of al-Awlaki among bin al-Shibh's personal contacts. The FBI interviewed al-Awlaki four times in the eight days following the 9/11 attacks. One detective later told the 9/11 Commission he believed al-Awlaki "was at the center of the 9/11 story". And an FBI agent said, "if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been" him, since "someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused". One 9/11 Commission staff member said: "Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something? Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it." A separate Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks suggested that al-Awlaki may have been connected to the hijackers, according to its director, Eleanor Hill. In 2003, Representative Anna Eshoo, a member of the House Intelligence Committee said, "In my view, he is more than a coincidental figure."
Six days after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki suggested in writing on the IslamOnline.net website that Israeli intelligence agents might have been responsible for the attacks, and that the FBI "went into the roster of the airplanes, and whoever has a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default".
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki was sought in Washington, D.C. by the media to answer questions about Islam, its rituals, and its relation to the attacks. He was interviewed by National Geographic, The New York Times, and other media. Al-Awlaki condemned the attacks. According to an NPR report in 2010, in 2001 al-Awlaki appeared to be a moderate who could "bridge the gap between the United States and the worldwide community of Muslims." The New York Times said at the time that he was "held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West." In 2010, FOX and the New York Daily News reported that some months after the 9/11 attacks, a Pentagon employee invited al-Awlaki to a luncheon in the Secretary's Office of General Counsel. The U.S. Secretary of the Army had suggested that a moderate Muslim be invited to give a talk.
In 2002, al-Awlaki was the first imam to conduct a prayer service for the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association at the U.S. Capitol. The prayers were for Muslim congressional staffers and officials for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That year, Nidal Malik Hasan visited al-Awlaki's mosque for his mother's funeral, at which al-Awlaki presided. In November 2009 Hasan killed thirteen and wounded many more in the Fort Hood shooting. Hasan usually attended a mosque in Maryland closer to where he lived while working at the Walter Reed Medical Center (2003–09).
Later in 2002, al-Awlaki posted an essay in Arabic on the Islam Today website titled "Why Muslims Love Death", supporting Palestinian suicide bombers. He expressed a similar opinion in a speech at a London mosque later that year. By July 2002, al-Awlaki was under investigation in the US for having received money from the subject of a US Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation. His name was added to the list of terrorism suspects.
In June 2002, a Denver federal judge signed an arrest warrant for al-Awlaki for passport fraud. On October 9, the Denver US Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and vacate the arrest warrant. Prosecutors believed that they lacked sufficient evidence of a crime, according to US Attorney Dave Gaouette, who authorized its withdrawal. Al-Awlaki had listed Yemen rather than the United States as his place of birth on his 1990 application for a US Social Security number, soon after arriving in the US. Al-Awlaki used this documentation to obtain a passport in 1993. He later corrected his place of birth to Las Cruces, New Mexico. "The bizarre thing is if you put Yemen down (on the application), it would be harder to get a Social Security number than to say you are a native-born citizen of Las Cruces", Gaouette said.
Prosecutors could not charge him in October 2002, when he returned from a trip abroad, because a 10-year statute of limitations on lying to the Social Security Administration had expired. According to a 2012 investigative report by Fox News, the arrest warrant for passport fraud was still in effect on the morning of October 10, 2002, when FBI Agent Wade Ammerman ordered al-Awlaki's release. U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and several congressional committees urged FBI Director Robert Mueller to provide an explanation about the bureau’s interactions with al-Awlaki, including why he was released from federal custody when there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The motion for rescinding the arrest warrant was approved by a magistrate judge on October 10 and filed on October 11.
ABC News reported in 2009 that the Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego disagreed with the decision to cancel the warrant. They were monitoring al-Awlaki and wanted to "look at him under a microscope". But US Attorney Gaouette said that no objection had been raised to the rescinding of the warrant during a meeting that included Ray Fournier, the San Diego federal diplomatic security agent whose allegation had set in motion the effort to obtain a warrant. Gaouette said that if al-Awlaki had been convicted at the time, he would have faced about six months in custody.
The New York Times suggested later that al-Awlaki had claimed birth in Yemen (his family's place of origin) to qualify for scholarship money granted to foreign citizens. U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) wrote in May 2010 that by claiming to be foreign-born, al-Awlaki fraudulently obtained more than $20,000 in scholarship funds reserved for foreign students.
While living in Northern Virginia, al-Awlaki visited Ali al-Timimi, later known as a radical Islamic cleric. Al-Timimi was convicted in 2005 and is now serving a life sentence for leading the Virginia Jihad Network, inciting Muslim followers to fight with the Taliban against the US.
Al-Awlaki left the US before the end of 2002, because of a "climate of fear and intimidation" according to Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque.
He lived in the UK for several months, where he gave talks attended by up to 200 people. He urged young Muslim followers: "The important lesson to learn here is never, ever trust a kuffar [non-Muslim]. Do not trust them! [Their leaders] are plotting to kill this religion. They're plotting night and day." "He was the main man who translated the jihad into English," said a student who attended his lectures in 2003.
He gave a series of lectures in December 2002 and January 2003 at the London Masjid al-Tawhid mosque, describing the rewards martyrs (Shahid) receive in paradise (Jannah). He was a "distinguished guest" speaker at the UK's Federation of Student Islamic Societies annual dinner in 2003. He began to gain supporters, particularly among young Muslims, and undertook a lecture tour of England and Scotland in 2002 in conjunction with the Muslim Association of Britain. He also lectured at "ExpoIslamia", an event held by Islamic Forum Europe. At the East London Mosque he told his audience: "A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim... he does not betray him, and he does not hand him over... You don't hand over a Muslim to the enemies."
In Britain's Parliament in 2003, Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, discussed the relationship between al-Awlaki and the Muslim Association of Britain, an alleged Muslim Brotherhood front organization founded by Kemal el-Helbawy, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Awlaki returned to Yemen in early 2004, and where he lived in Shabwah Governorate with his wife and five children. He lectured at Iman University, headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. The latter has been included on the UN 1267 Committee's list of individuals belonging to or associated with al-Qaeda. Al-Zindani denied having any influence over al-Awlaki, or that he had been his "direct teacher". Some believe that the school's curriculum deals mostly, if not exclusively, with radical Islamic studies, and promotes radicalism. American convert John Walker Lindh and other alumni have been associated with terrorist groups.
On August 31, 2006, al-Awlaki was arrested with four others on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and participating in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attaché. He was imprisoned in 2006 and 2007. He was interviewed around September 2007 by two FBI agents with regard to the 9/11 attacks and other subjects. John Negroponte, the US Director of National Intelligence, told Yemeni officials he did not object to al-Awlaki's detention.
His name was on a list of 100 prisoners whose release was sought by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen. After 18 months in a Yemeni prison, al-Awlaki was released on December 12, 2007, following the intercession of his tribe. According to a Yemeni security official, he was released because he had repented. He moved to his family home in Saeed, a hamlet in the Shabwa mountains.
Moazzam Begg's Cageprisoners, an organization representing former Guantanamo detainees, campaigned for al-Awlaki's release when he was in prison in Yemen. Al-Awlaki told Begg in an interview shortly after his release that prior to his incarceration in Yemen, he had condemned the 9/11 attacks.
In December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab, congratulating them.
Al-Awlaki provided al-Qaeda members in Yemen with the protection of his powerful tribe, the Awlakis, against the government. The tribal code required it to protect those who seek refuge and assistance. This imperative has greater force when the person is a member of the tribe, or a tribesman's friend. The tribe's motto is "We are the sparks of Hell; whomever interferes with us will be burned." Al-Awlaki also reportedly helped negotiate deals with leaders of other tribes.
Sought by Yemeni authorities who were investigating his al-Qaeda ties, al-Awlaki went into hiding in approximately March 2009, according to his father. By December 2009, al-Awlaki was on the Yemen government's most-wanted list. He was believed to be hiding in Yemen's Shabwa or Mareb regions, which are part of the so-called "triangle of evil". The area has attracted al-Qaeda militants, who seek refuge among local tribes unhappy with Yemen's central government.
Yemeni sources originally said al-Awlaki might have been killed in a pre-dawn air strike by Yemeni Air Force fighter jets on a meeting of senior al-Qaeda leaders at a hideout in Rafd in eastern Shabwa, on December 24, 2009. But he survived. Pravda reported that the planes, using Saudi and US intelligence, killed at least 30 al-Qaeda members from Yemen and abroad, and that an al-Awlaki house was "raided and demolished". On December 28 The Washington Post reported that US and Yemeni officials said that al-Awlaki had been present at the meeting. Abdul Elah al-Shaya, a Yemeni journalist, said al-Awlaki called him on December 28 to report that he was well and had not attended the al-Qaeda meeting. Al-Shaya said that al-Awlaki was not tied to al-Qaeda.
In March 2010, a tape featuring al-Awlaki was released in which he urged Muslims residing in the US to attack their country of residence.
After 2006, al-Awlaki was banned from entering the United Kingdom. He broadcast lectures to mosques and other venues there via video-link from 2007 to 2009, on at least seven occasions at five locations in Britain. Noor Pro Media Events held a conference at the East London Mosque on January 1, 2009, showing a videotaped lecture by al-Awlaki; former Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve expressed concern over his being featured.
He gave video-link talks in England to an Islamic student society at the University of Westminster in September 2008, an arts center in East London in April 2009 (after the Tower Hamlets council gave its approval), worshippers at the Al Huda Mosque in Bradford, and a dinner of the Cageprisoners organization in September 2008 at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in South London. On August 23, 2009, al-Awlaki was banned by local authorities in Kensington and Chelsea, London, from speaking at Kensington Town Hall via videolink to a fundraiser dinner for Guantanamo detainees promoted by Cageprisoners. His videos, which discuss his Islamist theories, have circulated across the United Kingdom. Until February 2010, hundreds of audio tapes of his sermons were available at the Tower Hamlets public libraries. In 2009, the London-based Islam Channel carried advertisements for his DVDs and at least two of his video conference lectures.
FBI agents identified al-Awlaki as a known, important "senior recruiter for al Qaeda", and a spiritual motivator. His name came up in a dozen terrorism plots in the US, UK, and Canada. The cases included suicide bombers in the 2005 London bombings, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, the jihadist killer in the 2009 Little Rock military recruiting office shooting, and the 2010 Times Square bomber. In each case the suspects were devoted to al-Awlaki's message, which they listened to online and on CDs.
Al-Awlaki's recorded lectures were heard by Islamist fundamentalists in at least six terror cells in the UK through 2009. Michael Finton (Talib Islam), who attempted in September 2009 to bomb the Federal Building and the adjacent offices of Congressman Aaron Schock in Springfield, Illinois, admired al-Awlaki and quoted him on his Myspace page. In addition to his website, al-Awlaki had a Facebook fan page with "fans" in the US, many of whom were high school students. Al-Awlaki also set up a website and blog on which he shared his views.
Al-Awlaki influenced several other extremists to join terrorist organizations overseas and to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries. Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, two American citizens from New Jersey who attempted to travel to Somalia in June 2010 to join the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al Shabaab, allegedly watched several al-Awlaki videos and sermons in which he warned of future attacks against Americans in the US and abroad. Zachary Chesser, an American citizen who was arrested for attempting to provide material support to Al Shabaab, told federal authorities that he watched online videos featuring al-Awlaki and that he exchanged several e-mails with al-Awlaki. In July 2010, Paul Rockwood was sentenced to eight years in prison for creating a list of 15 potential targets in the US, people he felt had desecrated Islam. Rockwood was a devoted follower of al-Awlaki, and had studied his works Constants on the Path to Jihad and 44 Ways to Jihad.
In October 2008, Charles Allen, US Under-Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, warned that al-Awlaki "targets U.S. Muslims with radical online lectures encouraging terrorist attacks from his new home in Yemen." Responding to Allen, al-Awlaki wrote on his website in December 2008: "I would challenge him to come up with just one such lecture where I encourage 'terrorist attacks'".
Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan was investigated by the FBI after intelligence agencies intercepted at least 18 e-mails between him and al-Awlaki between December 2008 and June 2009. Even before the contents of the e-mails were revealed, terrorism expert Jarret Brachman said that Hasan's contacts with al-Awlaki should have raised "huge red flags", because of his influence on radical English-speaking jihadis. Charles Allen, no longer in government, noted that there was no work-related reason for Hasan to be in touch with al-Awlaki. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel opined: "E-mailing a known al-Qaeda sympathizer should have set off alarm bells. Even if he was exchanging recipes, the bureau should have put out an alert." A DC-based Joint Terrorism Task Force operating under the FBI was notified of the e-mails, and reviewed the information. Army employees were informed of the e-mails, but they didn't perceive any terrorist threat in Hasan's questions. Instead, they viewed them as general questions about spiritual guidance with regard to conflicts between Islam and military service, and judged them to be consistent with legitimate mental health research about Muslims in the armed services. The assessment was that there was not sufficient information for a larger investigation. In one of the e-mails, Hasan wrote al-Awlaki: "I can't wait to join you [in the afterlife]". "It sounds like code words," said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. "That he's actually either offering himself up, or that he's already crossed that line in his own mind."
Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea interviewed al-Awlaki in November 2009. Al-Awlaki acknowledged his correspondence with Hasan. He said he "neither ordered nor pressured ... Hasan to harm Americans." Al-Awlaki said Hasan first e-mailed him December 17, 2008, introducing himself by writing: "Do you remember me? I used to pray with you at the Virginia mosque." Hasan said he had become a devout Muslim around the time al-Awlaki was preaching at Dar al-Hijrah, in 2001 and 2002, and al-Awlaki said 'Maybe Nidal was affected by one of my lectures.'" He added: "It was clear from his e-mails that Nidal trusted me. Nidal told me: 'I speak with you about issues that I never speak with anyone else.'" Al-Awlaki said Hasan arrived at his own conclusions regarding the acceptability of violence in Islam, and said he was not the one to initiate this. Shaea said, "Nidal was providing evidence to Anwar, not vice versa."
Asked whether Hasan mentioned Fort Hood as a target in his e-mails, Shaea declined to comment. However, al-Awlaki said the shooting was acceptable in Islam because it was a form of jihad, as the West began the hostilities with the Muslims. Al-Awlaki said he "blessed the act because it was against a military target. And the soldiers who were killed were ... those who were trained and prepared to go to Iraq and Afghanistan".
Al-Awlaki's e-mail conversations with Hasan were not released, and he was not placed on the FBI Most Wanted list, indicted for treason, or officially named as a co-conspirator with Hasan. The US government was reluctant to classify the Fort Hood shooting as a terrorist incident, or identify any motive. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2010 that al-Awlaki had not "played a direct role" in any of the attacks, and noted he had never been charged with a crime in the US.
One of his fellow officers at Fort Hood said Hasan was enthusiastic about al-Awlaki. Some investigators believe al-Awlaki's teachings may have been instrumental in Hasan's decision to stage the attack. On his now-disabled website, al-Awlaki praised Hasan's actions, describing him as a hero.
According to a number of sources, Al-Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the convicted al-Qaeda attempted bomber of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009, had contacts. In January 2010, CNN reported that US "security sources" said that there is concrete evidence that al-Awlaki was Abdulmutallab's recruiter and one of his trainers, and met with him prior to the attack. In February 2010, al-Awlaki admitted in an interview published in al-Jazeera that he taught and corresponded with Abdulmutallab, but denied having ordered the attack.
Representative Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said officials in the Obama administration and officials with access to law enforcement information told him the suspect "may have had contact [with al-Awlaki]".
The Sunday Times established that Abdulmutallab first met al-Awlaki in 2005 in Yemen, while he was studying Arabic. During that time the suspect attended lectures by al-Awlaki. The two are also "thought to have met" in London, according to The Daily Mail.
NPR reported that according to unnamed US intelligence officials he attended a sermon by al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque. Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, a former trustee of the mosque, expressed "grave misgivings" with regard to its stewardship. A spokesperson of the mosque stated that al-Awlaki had never spoken there or had even to his knowledge entered the building.
Abdulmutallab was also reported by CBS News, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Telegraph to have attended a talk by al-Awlaki at the East London Mosque, which al-Awlaki may have attended by video teleconference. The Sunday Telegraph later removed the report from its website following a complaint by the East London Mosque, which stated that "Anwar Al Awlaki did not deliver any talks at the ELM between 2005 and 2008, which is when the newspaper had falsely alleged that Abdullmutallab had attended such talks".
Investigators who searched flats connected to Abdulmutallab in London said that he was a "big fan" of al-Awlaki, as al-Awlaki's blog and website had repeatedly been visited from those locations.
According to federal sources, Abdulmutallab and al-Awlaki repeatedly communicated with one another in the year prior to the attack. "Voice-to-voice communication" between the two was intercepted during the fall of 2009, and one government source said al-Awlaki "was in some way involved in facilitating [Abdulmutallab]'s transportation or trip through Yemen. It could be training, a host of things." NPR reported that intelligence officials suspected al-Awlaki may have told Abdulmutallab to go to Yemen for al-Qaeda training.
Abdulmutallab told the FBI that al-Awlaki was one of his al-Qaeda trainers in Yemen. Others reported that Abdulmutallab met with al-Awlaki in the weeks leading up to the attack. The Los Angeles Times reported that according to a US intelligence official, intercepts and other information point to connections between the two:
Some of the information ... comes from Abdulmutallab, who ... said that he met with al-Awlaki and senior al-Qaeda members during an extended trip to Yemen this year, and that the cleric was involved in some elements of planning or preparing the attack and in providing religious justification for it. Other intelligence linking the two became apparent after the attempted bombing, including communications intercepted by the National Security Agency indicating that the cleric was meeting with "a Nigerian" in preparation for some kind of operation.
Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs, Rashad Mohammed al-Alimi, said Yemeni investigators believe that Abdulmutallab traveled to Shabwa in October 2009. Investigators believe he obtained his explosives and received training there. He met there with al-Qaeda members in a house built by al-Awlaki. A top Yemen government official said the two met with each other.
In January 2010, al-Awlaki acknowledged that he met and spoke with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009. In an interview, al-Awlaki said: "Umar Farouk is one of my students; I had communications with him. And I support what he did." He also said: "I did not tell him to do this operation, but I support it". Fox News reported in early February 2010 that Abdulmutallab told federal investigators that al-Awlaki directed him to carry out the bombing.
Sharif Mobley had acknowledged contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. The Mobley family claims the contact was for spiritual guidance in further studies of Islam.
The Mobley family went to Yemen and resided there for several years. They decided to return to the US and went to the US Embassy to update the family travel documents. While waiting for their travel documents, Sharif Mobley was kidnapped by Yemen Security Services and shot on January 26, 2010. He was then held in Yemen's Central Prison. Mobley disappeared from the Central Prison on February 27, 2014. His current location is known to the US Embassy in Yemen (currently closed 2015) but is withheld from his family and legal advisers based on US State Department Regulations on "US Citizens Missing Abroad".
All charges related to "terrorism/terrorist activity" were dropped by the Yemen government. There are no charges relating to allegations of "killing a guard during an escape attempt from the hospital" and there are no other legal proceedings against him in Yemen.
Faisal Shahzad, convicted of the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt, told interrogators that he was a "fan and follower" of al-Awlaki, and his writings were one of the inspirations for the attack. On May 6, 2010 ABC News reported that unknown sources told them Shahzad made contact with al-Awlaki over the internet, a claim that could not be independently verified.
Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed former British Cabinet Minister Stephen Timms in May 2010, and was found guilty of his attempted murder in November, 2010, claimed to have become radicalized by listening to online sermons of al-Awlaki.
In 2010, after Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, cartoonist Molly Norris at Seattle Weekly had to stop publishing, and at the suggestion of the FBI changed her name, moved, and went into hiding due to a Fatwā issued by al-Awlaki calling for her death. In the June 2010 issue of Inspire, an English-language al-Qaeda magazine, al-Awlaki cursed her and eight others for "blasphemous caricatures" of Muhammad. "The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved," he wrote. Daniel Pipes observed in an article entitled "Dueling Fatwas", "Awlaki stands at an unprecedented crossroads of death declarations, with his targeting Norris even as the U.S. government targets him."
The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Daily Telegraph reported that US and British counter-terrorism officials believed that al-Awlaki was behind the cargo plane PETN bombs that were sent from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010. When US Homeland Security official John Brennan was asked about al-Awlaki's suspected involvement in the plot, he said: "Anybody associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a subject of concern." US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein said "al-Awlaki was behind the two ... bombs."
Al-Awlaki's father, tribe, and supporters denied his alleged associations with Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism. Al-Awlaki's father proclaimed his son's innocence in an interview with CNN's Paula Newton, saying: "I am now afraid of what they will do with my son. He's not Osama bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not." Responding to a Yemeni official's claims that his son had taken refuge with al-Qaeda, Nasser said: "He's dead wrong. What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village. He has to hide. But he is not hiding with al-Qaeda; our tribe is protecting him right now."
The Yemeni government attempted to get the tribal leaders to release al-Awlaki to their custody. They promised they would not turn him over to US authorities for questioning. The governor of Shabwa said in January 2010 that al-Awlaki was on the move with members of al-Qaeda, including Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole.
In January 2010, White House lawyers debated whether or not it was legal to kill al-Awlaki, given his US citizenship. US officials stated that international law allows targeted killing in the event that the subject is an "imminent threat". Because he was a US citizen, his killing had to be approved by the National Security Council. Such action against a US citizen is extremely rare. As a military enemy of the US, al-Awlaki was not subject to Executive Order 11905, which bans assassination for political reasons. The authorization was nevertheless controversial.
By February 4, 2010, New York Daily News reported that al-Awlaki was "now on a targeting list signed off on by the Obama administration". On April 6, The New York Times reported that President Obama had authorized the killing of al-Awlaki.
The al-Awalik tribe responded: "We warn against cooperating with America to kill Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki. We will not stand by idly and watch." Al-Awlaki's tribe wrote that it would "not remain with arms crossed if a hair of Anwar al-Awlaki is touched, or if anyone plots or spies against him. Whoever risks denouncing our son (Awlaki) will be the target of Al-Awalik weapons," and gave warning "against co-operating with the Americans" in the capture or killing of al-Awlaki. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, announced that the Yemeni government had not received any evidence from the US, and that "Anwar al-Awlaki has always been looked at as a preacher rather than a terrorist and shouldn't be considered as a terrorist unless the Americans have evidence that he has been involved in terrorism".
In a video clip bearing the imprint of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, issued on April 16 in al-Qaeda's monthly magazine Sada Al-Malahem, al-Awlaki said: "What am I accused of? Of calling for the truth? Of calling for jihad for the sake of Allah? Of calling to defend the causes of the Islamic nation?". In the video he also praises both Abdulmutallab and Hasan, and describes both as his "students".
In late April, Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) introduced a resolution urging the US State Department to withdraw al-Awlaki's US citizenship. By May, US officials believed he had become directly involved in terrorist activities. Former colleague Abdul-Malik said he "is a terrorist, in my book", and advised shops not to carry any of his publications. In an editorial, Investor's Business Daily called al-Awlaki the "world's most dangerous man", and recommended that he be added to the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list, a bounty put on his head, that he be designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, charged with treason, and extradition papers filed with the Yemeni government. IBD criticized the Justice Department for stonewalling Senator Joe Lieberman's security panel's investigation of al-Awlaki's role in the Fort Hood massacre.
On July 16, the US Treasury Department added him to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, called him "extraordinarily dangerous", and said al-Awlaki was involved in several organizational aspects of terrorism, including recruiting, training, fundraising, and planning individual attacks.
A few days later, the United Nations Security Council placed al-Awlaki on its UN Security Council Resolution 1267 list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda, describing him as a leader, recruiter, and trainer for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The resolution stipulates that U.N. members must freeze the assets of anyone on the list, and prevent them from travelling or obtaining weapons. The following week, Canadian banks were ordered to seize any assets belonging to al-Awlaki. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's senior counter-terrorism officer Gilles Michaud described him as a "major, major factor in radicalization". In September 2010, Jonathan Evans, the Director General of the United Kingdom's domestic security and counter-intelligence agency (MI5), said that al-Awlaki was the West's Public Enemy No 1.
In October 2010, US Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) urged YouTube to take down al-Awlaki's videos from its website, saying that by hosting al-Awlaki's messages, "We are facilitating the recruitment of homegrown terror." Pauline Neville-Jones, British security minister, said "These Web sites ... incite cold-blooded murder." YouTube began removing the material in November 2010.
Al-Awlaki was charged in absentia in Sana'a, Yemen, on November 2 with plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda. Ali al-Saneaa, the head of the prosecutor's office, announced the charges during the trial of Hisham Assem, who had been accused of killing Jacques Spagnolo, an oil industry worker. He said that al-Awlaki and Assem had been in contact for months, and that al-Awlaki had encouraged Assem to commit terrorism. Al-Awlaki's lawyer said that his client was not connected to Spagnolo's death. On November 6, Yemeni Judge Mohsen Alwan ordered that al-Awlaki be caught "dead or alive".
In his book Ticking Time Bomb: Counter-Terrorism Lessons from the U.S. Government's Failure to Prevent the Fort Hood Attack (2011), former US Senator Joe Lieberman described al-Awlaki, Australian Muslim preacher Feiz Mohammad, Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal, and Pakistani-American Samir Khan as "virtual spiritual sanctioners" who use the internet to offer religious justification for Islamist terrorism.
In July 2010, al-Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki, contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union to represent his son in a lawsuit that sought to remove Anwar from the targeted killing list. ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said:
the United States is not at war in Yemen, and the government doesn't have a blank check to kill terrorism suspects wherever they are in the world. Among the arguments we'll be making is that, outside actual war zones, the authority to use lethal force is narrowly circumscribed, and preserving the rule of law depends on keeping this authority narrow.
Lawyers for Specially Designated Global Terrorists must obtain a special license from the US Treasury Department before they can represent their clients in court. The lawyers were granted the license on August 4, 2010.
On August 30, 2010, the groups filed a "targeted killing" lawsuit, naming President Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as defendants. They sought an injunction preventing the targeted killing of al-Awlaki, and also sought to require the government to disclose the standards under which US citizens may be "targeted for death". Judge John D. Bates dismissed the lawsuit in an 83-page ruling, holding that the father did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, and that his claims were judicially unreviewable under the political question doctrine inasmuch as he was questioning a decision that the US Constitution committed to the political branches.
On May 5, 2011, the US tried but failed to kill al-Awlaki by firing a missile from an unmanned drone at a car in Yemen. A Yemeni security official said that two al-Qaeda operatives in the car died.
On September 30, 2011, in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province, two Predator drones based at a secret CIA base in Saudi Arabia fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle containing al-Awlaki and three other suspected al-Qaeda members. According to US sources, the strike was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA. A witness said the group had stopped to eat breakfast while traveling to Ma'rib Governorate. The occupants of the vehicle spotted the drone and attempted to flee in the vehicle. Yemen's Defense Ministry announced that al-Awlaki had been killed. Also killed was Samir Khan, an American born in Saudi Arabia, thought to be behind al-Qaeda's English-language web magazine Inspire. US President Barack Obama said:
The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda's most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans ... and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. [The strike] is further proof that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.
Journalist and author Glenn Greenwald argued on Salon.com that killing al-Awlaki violated his First Amendment right of free speech and that doing so outside of a criminal proceeding violated the Constitution's due process clause, specifically citing the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio that "the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force." He mentioned doubt among Yemeni experts about al-Awlaki's role in al-Qaeda, and called US government accusations against him unverified and lacking in evidence.
In a letter dated May 22, 2013, to the chairman of the US Senate Judiciary committee, Patrick J. Leahy, US attorney general Eric Holder wrote that
high-level U.S. government officials [...] concluded that al-Aulaqi posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States. Before carrying out the operation that killed al-Aulaqi, senior officials also determined, based on a careful evaluation of the circumstances at the time, that it was not feasible to capture al-Aulaqi. In addition, senior officials determined that the operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles, including the cardinal principles of (1) necessity – the requirement that the target have definite military value; (2) distinction – the idea that only military objectives may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted; (3) proportionality – the notion that the anticipated collateral damage of an action cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage; and (4) humanity – a principle that requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. The operation was also undertaken consistent with Yemeni sovereignty. [... ] The decision to target Anwar al-Aulaqi was lawful, it was considered, and it was just.
On April 21, 2014, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the Obama administration must release documents justifying its drone killings of foreigners and Americans, including Anwar al-Awlaki. In June 2014, the United States Department of Justice disclosed a 2010 memorandum written by the acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, David Barron. The memo stated that Anwar al-Awlaki was a significant threat with an infeasible probability of capture. Barron therefore justified the killing as legal, as "the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process". The New York Times Editorial Board dismissed the memo's rationale for al-Awlaki's killing, saying it "provides little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care", instead describing it as "a slapdash pastiche of legal theories — some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law — that was clearly tailored to the desired result." A lawyer for the ACLU described the memo as "disturbing" and "ultimately an argument that the president can order targeted killings of Americans without ever having to account to anyone outside the executive branch."
Awlaki's videos and writings remain highly popular on the internet, where they continue to be readily accessible. Even following his death, Awlaki has continued to inspire his devotees to carry out terrorist attacks, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2015 San Bernardino attack, and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. According to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), 88 "extremists," 54 in the U.S. and 34 in Europe, have been influenced by Awlaki. Because "his work has inspired countless plots and attacks," CEP has "called on YouTube and other platforms to permanently ban Mr. Awlaki’s material, including his early, mainstream lectures."
During the FBI investigation of the 9/11 attacks, it was discovered that a few of the attackers had attended the mosques in San Diego and Falls Church with which al-Awlaki was associated. Interviews with members of the San Diego mosque showed that Nawaz al-Hazmi, one of the attackers, may have had a private conversation with him. On that basis he was placed under 24-hour surveillance. It was discovered that he regularly patronized prostitutes. It was through FBI interrogation of prostitutes and escort service operators that al-Awlaki was tipped off in 2002 about FBI surveillance. Shortly thereafter, he left the United States.
In January 2013, Fox News announced that FBI documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request showed possible connections between al-Awlaki and the September 11 attackers. According to Judicial Watch, the documents show that the FBI knew that al-Awlaki had bought tickets for three of the hijackers to fly into Florida and Las Vegas. Judicial Watch further stated that al-Awlaki "was a central focus of the FBI's investigation of 9/11. They show he wasn't cooperative. And they show that he was under surveillance."
When queried by Fox News, the FBI denied having evidence connecting al-Awlaki and the September 11 attacks: "The FBI cautions against drawing conclusions from redacted FOIA documents. The FBI and investigating bodies have not found evidence connecting Anwar al-Awlaki and the attack on September 11, 2001. The document referenced does not link Anwar al-Awlaki with any purchase of airline tickets for the hijackers."
Anwar al-Awlaki and Egyptian-born Gihan Mohsen Baker had a son, Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, born August 26, 1995 in Denver, who was an American citizen. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed on October 14, 2011 in Yemen at the age of 16 in an American drone strike. Nine other people were killed in the same CIA-initiated attack, including a 17-year-old cousin of Abdulrahman. According to his relatives, shortly before his father's death, Abdulrahman had left the family home in Sana'a and travelled to Shabwa in search of his father who was believed to be in hiding in that area (though he was actually hundreds of miles away at the time ). Abdulrahman was sitting in an open-air cafe in Shabwa when killed. According to US officials, the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a mistake; the intended target was an Egyptian, Ibrahim al-Banna, who was not at the targeted location at the time of the attack. Human rights groups have raised questions as to why an American citizen was killed by the US in a country with which the United States is not officially at war. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki had no connection to terrorism.
Nasser al-Awlaki is the father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki stated he believed his son had been wrongly accused and was not a member of Al Qaeda. After the deaths of his son and grandson, Nasser in an interview in Time Magazine called the killings a crime and condemned US President Obama directly, saying: "I urge the American people to bring the killers to justice. I urge them to expose the hypocrisy of the 2009 Nobel Prize laureate. To some, he may be that. To me and my family, he is nothing more than a child killer."
In 2013, Nasser al-Awlaki published an op-ed in The New York Times stating that two years after killing his grandson, the Obama administration still declines to provide an explanation. In 2012, Nasser al-Awlaki filed a lawsuit, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, challenging the constitutionality of the drone killings of his son and grandson. This lawsuit was dismissed in April 2014 by D.C. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer.
Tariq al-Dahab, who led al-Qaeda insurgents in Yemen, was a brother-in-law of al-Awlaki. On February 16, 2012, the terrorist organization stated that he had been killed by agents, although media reports contain speculation that he was killed by his brother in a bloody family feud.
On January 29, 2017, Anwar al-Awlaki's 8-year-old daughter, Nawar al-Awlaki, was killed in a DEVGRU attack ordered by President Donald Trump. Medics at the scene, "said around 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed."
Al-Awlaki's Islamic education was primarily informal, and consisted of intermittent months with various scholars (including the Salafi teacher ibn Uthaymeen), reading and contemplating Islamic scholarly works. Some Muslim scholars said they did not understand al‑Awlaki's popularity, because while he spoke fluent English and could therefore reach a large non-Arabic-speaking audience, he lacked formal Islamic training and study.
While imprisoned in Yemen after 2004, al-Awlaki was influenced by the works of Sayyid Qutb, described by the New York Times as an originator of the contemporary "anti-Western Jihadist movement". He read 150 to 200 pages a day of Qutb's works, and described himself as "so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly".
Terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann in 2009 referred to al-Awlaki as "one of the principal jihadi luminaries for would-be homegrown terrorists. His fluency with English, his unabashed advocacy of jihad and mujahideen organizations, and his Web-savvy approach are a powerful combination." He called al-Awlaki's lecture, "Constants on the Path of Jihad", which he says was based on a similar document written by al-Qaeda's founder, the "virtual bible for lone-wolf Muslim extremists". Philip Mudd, formerly of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and the FBI's top intelligence adviser, called him "a magnetic character ... a powerful orator." He attracted young men to his lectures, especially US-based and UK-based Muslims.
US officials and some US media sources called al-Awlaki an Islamic fundamentalist and accused him of encouraging terrorism. According to documents recovered from bin Laden's hideout, the al-Qaeda leader was unsure about al-Awlaki's qualifications.
The Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation said al-Awlaki's ability to write and speak in fluent English enabled him to incite English-speaking Muslims to terrorism. Al-Awlaki notes in 44 Ways to Support Jihad that most reading material on the subject is in Arabic.
Al-Awlaki maintained a website and blog on which he shared his views. On December 11, 2008, he said Muslims should not seek to "serve in the armies of the disbelievers and fight against his brothers".
In "44 Ways to Support Jihad", posted on his blog in February 2009, al-Awlaki encouraged others to "fight jihad", and explained how to give money to the mujahideen or their families. Al-Awlaki's sermon encourages others to conduct weapons training, and raise children "on the love of Jihad". Also that month, he wrote: "I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies." He wrote as well: "We will implement the rule of Allah on Earth by the tip of the sword, whether the masses like it or not." On July 14, he said that Muslim countries should not offer military assistance the US. "The blame should be placed on the soldier who is willing to follow orders ... who sells his religion for a few dollars," he said. In blog post dated July 15, 2009, entitled "Fighting Against Government Armies in the Muslim World", al-Awlaki wrote, "Blessed are those who fight against [American soldiers], and blessed are those shuhada [martyrs] who are killed by them."
In a video posted to the internet on November 8, 2010, al-Awlaki called for Muslims to kill Americans "without hesitation", and overthrow Arab governments that cooperate with the US. "Don't consult with anyone in fighting the Americans, fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers or seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils", al-Awlaki said. That month, Intelligence Research Specialist Kevin Yorke of the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Division called him "the most dangerous man in the world".
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