WASHINGTON - Last weekend,
authorities in Yemen said they would not participate in the
extrajudicial killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was
recently targeted by military and intelligence agencies in Washington.
"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," Yemen's foreign
minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, told reporters in the capital city of
al-Qirbi also told Al Jazeera television that al-Awlaki "is wanted by
Yemeni justice for questioning, so that he can clear his name ... or
Though Al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen, born in New
Mexico, he lived in Yemen with his family for most of his early life.
He returned to attend college and graduate school and it was during
this period he began serving as an imam for various mosques around the
Al-Awlaki admits to supporting - but not encouraging -
the recent attacks of Umar Abdulmutallab and Maj. Nidal Hasan on
military and civilian targets within the U.S. His sermons are known to
be extremely critical of U.S. foreign policy and military intervention
in Muslim countries.
"Although we don't have the high-level
homegrown threat facing Europeans, we have to worry about the appeal
that figures like Anwar al-Awlaki exert on young American Muslims,"
said Dr. Mathew Burrows, counselor to the National Intelligence
Council, during a recent press briefing, referring to al-Awlaki's
reputation as a charismatic and thoughtful speaker.
The Barack Obama administration took a somewhat extraordinary step last week in authorising the targeted killing of the cleric.
handful of intelligence and counterterrorism officials briefed members
of the press on the decision last week, during which Reuters quoted
government officials as saying that "Al-Awlaki is a proven threat," and
that "he's being targeted".
Though known only as an Islamic
scholar, espousing controversial views, U.S. intelligence officials
cited new information on his direct involvement with Al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as justification for his targeting.
gotten involved in plots," an unnamed official told the New York Times
last week. "The danger al-Awlaki poses to this country is no longer
confined to words,"
Rep. Jane Harman, chair of the House of
Representatives Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, told
Reuters that Awlaki's U.S. citizenship made going after him "certainly
Though controversial as it may seem, this would
not be the first time a U.S. citizen has been extra-judicially killed
by U.S. forces in Yemen.
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In November 2002, Kamal Darwish, a
dual U.S.-Yemeni national, was assassinated in a drone strike as he
rode in a car with the main target of the operation, Abu Ali al-Harith,
who was believed to be al Qaeda's highest ranking member in Yemen, as
well as the mastermind of the USS Cole attack in 2000.
expert Gregory Johnsen wrote an article for Newsweek on Tuesday
contending that the 2002 operation, which resulted in the deaths of
Darwish, al-Harith and four others, was ultimately unnecessary and had
little effect on al Qaeda as an organisation.
deaths meant little. Al Qaeda was hobbled for a while but eventually
resurrected itself stronger and more durable than its previous
incarnation," said Jonhsen, referencing AQAP's recent resurgence.
"Assassinating al-Awlaki may make us feel safer, but it won't make us
Other analysts also believe that although al-Awlaki
may be a legitimate target, an extra-judicial killing could set a
"He certainly is an instigator of
jihadi-style violence, so I think that in that sense he is a legitimate
target," counterterrorism research fellow at the New America
Foundation, Brian Fishman, told IPS.
But Fishman also expressed
reservations. "I wish that this process was better understood by the
general public, because we have to trust the judgment of our leaders...
How is this going to be applied in 30 years? What are the implications
of it down the road?" he added. "It's complicated."
al-Awlaki's father attempted to reach out to officials in Washington
regarding his son's fate, saying his son would halt his anti-U.S.
messages if Washington removed him from its hit list.
Washington stops targeting [him] by threatening to abduct, capture, or
kill him, Anwar will cease his statements and speeches against it,"
Nasser al-Awlaki, a former minister of agriculture and rector at the
University of Sa'na, told Al Jazeera.
Though his father has ties
to the government, al-Awlaki has been at odds with the authorities in
Yemen for years and reportedly spent time in jail for terrorism-related
offences there before going into hiding several years ago.
an interview with Al Jazeera Arabic in February, al-Awlaki made it
clear that he believed the charges against him to be ideologically
motivated and not based on any evidence of wrongdoing or violence.
charge is 'incitement'," said al-Awlaki, when asked about why he
thought U.S. authorities would want to kill him. "All this comes as
part of the attempt to liquidate the voices that call for defending the
rights of the Umma [Muslim nation]."
"They reject the principle
of pride and demanding justice, they want to promote the principle of
humiliation and compliance," he said.