The US Treasury Department has designated an American-born Muslim cleric who is a senior member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and is based in Yemen as a terrorist for his involvement in several terror attacks.
Anwar al Awlaki, a senior cleric, recruiter, propagandist, and planner for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been designated as a terrorist under Executive Order 13224 “for supporting acts of terrorism and for acting for or on behalf of AQAP.” The designation allows the US to freeze his assets, prevent him from using financial institutions, and prosecute him for terrorist activities.
“Anwar al Awlaki has proven that he is extraordinarily dangerous, committed to carrying out deadly attacks on Americans and others worldwide,” Stuart Levey, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a Treasury Department press release. “He has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism — fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents.”
Awlaki has sworn allegiance to Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and “has also recruited individuals to join AQAP, facilitated training at camps in Yemen in support of acts of terrorism, and helped focus AQAP’s attention on planning attacks on US interests.”
He has “taken on an increasingly operational role in the group” since late 2009. Treasury directly linked Awlaki to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who failed to detonate a bomb on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.
Although not mentioned by Treasury, Awlaki has also been linked to Major Nidal Hasan, the US Army doctor who murdered 13 soldiers at a deployment center at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009. While Awlaki had originally denied radicalizing Hasan, his emails, which he provided to Al Jazeera, show that he provided the religious justification for Hasan to conduct the attacks.
In March 2010, Awlaki released an audiotape praising Hasan and Abdulmutallab’s attacks on the US. He also admitted that he is now at war with the US.
“I for one, was born in the US, and lived in the US for 21 years,” he said. “America was my home. I was a preacher of Islam involved in non-violent Islamic activism. However, with the American invasion of Iraq and continued US aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the US and being a Muslim, and I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other able Muslim.”
Awlaki released a videotape in April 2010 in which he claimed he was “proud” to have trained Hasan and Abdulmutallab. “I am proud to have been their teacher,” Awlaki said in the videotape, which was aired on Al Jazeera.
Anwar al Awlaki’s long-standing ties 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 also 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. While there, he encouraged Muslims to seek martyrdom in the cause of jihad.
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.
In 2006, Yemeni security forces detained Awlaki “on charges of kidnapping for ransom and being involved in an al Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. official,” Treasury stated. He was released in December 2007 and “subsequently went into hiding in Yemen.”
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.
Unlike Adam Gahdan, the US-born al Qaeda propagandist who is based in Pakistan, Awlaki has not been charged with treason, despite his statements against the US and his active support for al Qaeda. The Obama administration has approved of operations that would lead to the assassination of Awlaki.
On Dec. 24, 2009, just one day before Abdulmutallab’s failed attack over Detroit, the US targeted Awlaki and several other top al Qaeda leaders at a meeting in Yemen. Awlaki 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. The leaders survived the airstrike.
• Treasury Designates Anwar al Awlaki, Key Leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, US Treasury Department
• US-born cleric Awlaki ‘proud’ to have taught al Qaeda operatives, The Long War Journal
• Yemeni airstrike kills deputy governor, al Qaeda operatives, The Long War Journal
• US launches cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen, The Long War Journal
• Radical US cleric survived airstrike in Yemen: family, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.