The radical US cleric who is thought to have advised three of the Sept. 11 hijackers as well as the Muslim-American US Army major who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, survived Thursday’s airstrike in Yemen’s Shabwa province.
Friends and relatives of Ansar al Awlaki claimed he was not killed in the attack, but they refused to disclose if he was in attendance at a meeting of al Qaeda leaders when it was hit by what the Yemeni government claimed were Yemeni Air Force fighter-bombers.
Awlaki was thought to have been attending a high-level meeting of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Dec. 24. He was at the meeting to provide the needed religious justification for a planned al Qaeda campaign to conduct attacks against Yemeni and US targets in response to the controversial Dec. 17 airstrikes against al Qaeda in Abyan and Sana’a, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
Among those believed to be at the meeting were Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; his deputy Said al Shihri; and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al Quso, an al Qaeda operative wanted by the FBI for his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Wuhayshi and Quso are also thought to have escaped the strike, while the status of Shihri is still unknown.
There are conflicting reports on the location of the strike; some indicate that Awlaki’s home was targeted, while others indicated that Quso’s home was hit.
Mohammed Saleh Awlaki, a local al Qaeda leader and a relative of Quso, was among the more than 30 people killed in Thursday’s airstrike. Mohammed Saleh Awlaki was last seen speaking to a crowd of Yemenis in Abyan province, just days after the Dec. 17 US cruise missile strike that targeted al Qaeda training camps in Abyan and Sana’a. He said al Qaeda was not at war with Yemeni soldiers, but only with the US and those who support her.
Yemen the new launchpad for al Qaeda’s attacks against the West
The US has stepped up the pressure on the Yemeni government to act against al Qaeda after intelligence has indicated that the terror group is plotting strikes against the West from terror camps in Abyan, Shabwa, Sana’a, and other locations in the country.
Fears that Yemen will become the next staging ground for al Qaeda’s external operations branch rose today after a plot to blow up a plane over the US was foiled by passengers while the attack was in progress.
A Nigerian man identified as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it traveled from Amsterdam to Detroit. Passengers subdued Abdulmutallab after he mixed a powder, which he said was taped to his leg, and a liquid, and then attempted to ignite it.
Abdulmutallab told investigators he was a member of al Qaeda and received the explosive device and training in Yemen, according to ABC News.
“The subject is claiming to have extremist affiliation and that the device was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used,” a federal situational awareness bulletin stated.
Ansar al Awlaki’s long links to jihad
Awlaki’s ties to radical Islamist terror groups stretch back for more than a decade. In 1998-99, Awlaki served as the Vice President for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, a charity founded by Abdulmajid al Zindani, the man who serves as Osama bin Laden’s spiritual advisor and who is designated a terrorist by the US government. The Charitable Society for Social Welfare diverted donations to al Qaeda and other terror groups, according to the FBI.
Awlaki served as the spiritual advisor to Sept. 11 hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, while a third hijacker, Hani Hanjour, is known to have attended his sermons. Awlaki’s phone number was found at the home of Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the masterminds and key facilitators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In late 2002, Awlaki fled the US and went to Britain, where he is known to have preached at the Masjid at Tawhid mosque in London. He encouraged Muslims to seek martyrdom.
In 2004, Awlaki and his family left London to live in Shabwa province in Yemen. Awlaki again went to work for Zindani, this time by giving lectures at Iman University, a known breeding ground for Islamist terrorists.
Banner for a lecture entitled “State of the Ummah,” delivered by Anwar al Awlaki on March, 1 2009, via teleconference to followers in Pakistan.
Awlaki has become a prominent cyber-jihadist. Combining his ability to communicate in English with his charisma with young, radical Muslims and his presence on the Web, Awlaki has developed a large following. He gives numerous lectures and speeches via the Internet and teleconferences. US law enforcement agencies and intelligence services consider Awlaki to be a prime recruiter for al Qaeda as well as a provider of the needed religious justifications, or fatwas, for jihadis to carry out attacks.
Awlaki recently reemerged as a major jihadist figure in the West after it was found out he was in direct email communication with Major Nidal Hasan before the latter killed 13 US soldiers and civilians at a staging center for troops deploying overseas. While Awlaki denies radicalizing Hasan, his emails, which he provided to Al Jazeera, show that he provided the religious justification for Hasan to conduct the attacks.