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Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen September 30, 2011

2.44pm: Also on Cif America, former Nato commander in chief Wesley Clark says the death of Anwar al-Alwaki demonstrates the US’s newfound ability to strike terrorists anywhere in the world:

Instead of deploying tens of thousands of troops in dozens of countries, we have worked with allies, honed intelligence, and developed remarkable precision-targeting and strike capabilities. For the US, it has been a new way of war, fought largely out of sight by the CIA and special forces personnel. It is waged 24 hours per day, often in failed and failing states, but also in many countries the average American tourist wouldn’t suspect. For the United States, which was a novice in the intelligence and special operations business in the second world war, and whose agencies were roughly treated in the aftermath of Vietnam, this has been an incredible transformation.

2.30pm: On Cif America, Michael Rattner – president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights – argues that the assassination of a US citizen sets “a terrifying precedent”:

Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike.

2.21pm: Civil rights and constitutional law professor Johnathan Turley is concerned that a presidential power to kill US citizens without oversight runs against the grain of the constitution:

Under the current policy, the President effectively promises to be careful in the selection of assassination targets. It is a decision left entirely to him and his designated subordinates. It runs contrary to constitutional guarantees protecting persons accused of crimes. The President can claim that the location of such individuals abroad is the key distinction since courts limit the application of constitutional protections and limitations outside of our border. Yet, we have already seen that the Justice Department argues that other rights can be similarly waived in the country like due process rights and the right to counsel for anyone accused being an enemy combatants. The enemy combatant policy and cases largely eradicated the domestic/foreign distinction used in the past.

2.05pm: The Associated Press has more detail on the attack itself:

Yemeni intelligence pinpointed al-Awlaki’s hideout in the town of Al Khasaf, a Yemeni official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. “He was closely monitored ever since,” by Yemeni intelligence on the ground, backed by US satellite and drones from the sky, the official said.

After three weeks of tracking the targets, US armed drones and fighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki’s convoy early Friday, then drones launched their lethal strike. The strike killed four operatives in all, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

There’s also more background in Awlaki’s involvement in terror plots:

Following the strike, a US official outlined new details of al-Awlaki’s involvement in anti-US operations, including the attempted Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft. The official said that al-Awlaki specifically directed the man accused of trying to bomb the airliner to detonate an explosive device over US airspace to maximize casualties.

The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the US. The US also believes al-Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.


1.45pm: Here’s a summary of events so far today:

Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-Yemeni dual citizen and senior al-Qaida leader, has been killed in Yemen by an air strike

• Awlaki’s name was on a list of targets authorised by the US, with the administration saying that Awlaki was linked to the staging of terrorist plots against the US, including the 2009 “underwear bomber”

• A second US citizen and al-Qaida member, Samir Khan, was also reported to be killed in the attack on Awlaki’s convoy, 90 miles (140 kilometres) east of Yemen‘s capital Sana’a

• The attack appears to have been a missile strike launched from a US drone in a joint CIA-US military operation

• President Obama hailed the death of Awlaki as “a major blow to al-Qaida’s most active operational affiliate,” Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula

• “This is further proof that al-Qaida or its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said

• The killings set off a debate about the US government’s powers to conduct assassinations of American citizens overseas wihtout judicial oversight or legal action

• US civil liberties groups condemned the assassination, while Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said: “To start assassinating American citizens without charges, we should think very seriously about this”

1.36pm: Some details on Samir Khan, the other US citizen who appears to have been killed in the drone strike in Yemen. The Associated Press reports:

A US official says a second American citizen is dead in the same airstrike that killed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

US and Yemeni officials say Samir Khan and al-Awlaki were killed early Friday in a strike on a convoy in Yemen. The strike was carried out by the CIA and US Joint Special Operations Command. Khan edited the slick Western-style Internet publication Inspire Magazine that attracted many readers. The US official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The online magazine published seven issues offering articles on making crude bombs and how to fire AK-47 assault rifles. US intelligence officials have said that Khan — who was from North Carolina — was not directly responsible for targeting Americans.

1.20pm: More reaction, this time from Richard Miniter, author of Mastermind: The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed:

This is a major propaganda victory in the war against al-Qaeda. He was their link the English-speaking world.

Critics of Obama have been proved wrong. Obama is proving to be a far deadlier president than President Bush. He killed Bin Laden, toppled Gadaffi, now he’s willing to kill an American citizen overseas without the smallest amount of due process.

Remember in 2007 when Rudy Giuliani said that, under a Democratic president, “it sounds to me like we’re going on the defense” against terrorists.

1.10pm: More criticism, this time from Vince Warren, executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York City:

The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki by American drone attacks is the latest of many affronts to domestic and international law.

The targeted assassination program that started under President Bush and expanded under the Obama Administration essentially grants the executive the power to kill any US citizen deemed a threat, without any judicial oversight, or any of the rights afforded by our Constitution. If we allow such gross overreaches of power to continue, we are setting the stage for increasing erosions of civil liberties and the rule of law.

1pm: Spencer Ackerman’s piece for Wired’s Danger Room national security blog on the legality of killing Awlaki is an excellent guide:

Charlie Dunlap says that Awlaki’s American citizenship — he was actually a dual US-Yemeni citizen — isn’t a shield against retaliation for terrorism. Dunlap comes with major credentials: not only was he the Air Force’s top Judge Advocate General before retiring in 2010 as a two-star general, he coined the term “lawfare” to conceptualize the idea of viewing legal action on a continuum with war, not a departure from it.

“If a US citizen overseas presents an imminent threat, or is a participant in an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict against the US — as the administration seems to be alleging is the case with al-Awlaki — the mere fact that he may also be accused of criminal offenses does not necessarily give him sanctuary from being lawfully attacked overseas as any other enemy belligerent might be,” Dunlap, now a law professor at Duke University, tells Danger Room.

Dunlap’s friend Mary Ellen O’Connell disagrees. And her credentials are just as impressive: she’s the vice chairman of the prestigious American Society of International Law, as well as a professor at the University of Notre Dame. Her argument doesn’t rely on Awlaki’s American citizenship.

“The United States is not involved in any armed conflict in Yemen,” O’Connell tells Danger Room, “so to use military force to carry out these killings violates international law.”

12.54pm: The New York Times looks at the case against Awlaki:

The Obama administration had long argued that Mr. Awlaki, 40, had joined the enemy in wartime, shifting from propaganda to an operational role in plots against the United States, and last year it quietly decided that he could be targeted for capture or death like any other Al Qaeda leader. It was unclear whether the same formal determination had been made about another radicalized American who may have been killed in the same strike, Samir Khan.

Some civil libertarians questioned how the government could take an American citizen’s life based on murky intelligence and without an investigation or trial, claiming that hunting and killing him would amount to summary execution without the due process of law guaranteed by the Constitution.

12.45pm: The American Civil Liberties Union issues a statement questioning the legality of the killing of Awlaki:

The targeted killing program violates both US and international law. As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific, and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the President — any President — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.

CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Tobin says that Awlaki’s father was denied standing by the US courts in his earlier attempt to take Awlaki’s name off the US hitlist – which makes it very difficult for anyone to have the legal position to be able to make a case against the US government.

12.39pm: The US government ordering an extra-judicial killing of an American citizen – as in the case of Awlaki – or “assassinating American citizens without charges” as Ron Paul put it, is going to be the subject of some debate.

Andrew Cohen, CBS Radio News’s chief legal analyst, wonders about the implications:

The Al-Aulaqi case indeed raises vital legal questions. For example, who would have standing to challenge US over drone strike on citizen?

12.25pm: If you want a conspiracy theory that the timing of Awlaki’s death was highly convenient for Yemen’s regime seeking support from the US while rocked by protests, consider this: today’s Washington Post has an exclusive front page interview with Yemen’s President Salah:

Saleh also warned the United States, which has denounced the violence and called for him to step down soon, to be patient.

“I am addressing the American public. I want to ask a question: Are you still keeping your commitment in continuing the operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda?” he asked. “If yes, that will be good. But what we see is that we are pressed by America and the international community to speed up the process of handing over power. And we know where power is going to go. It is going to al-Qaeda, which is directly and completely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

What excellent timing.

12.16pm: CNN is now reporting administration sources saying that it was a missile fired from a US drone that killed Awlaki.



Ron Paul: Awlaki “was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody.” Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

12.12pm: Here are Ron Paul’s verbatim remarks in full when asked about the killing of Awlaki during a campaign stop in New Hampshire:

No I don’t think that’s a good way to deal with our problems. He was born here, al-Awlaki was born here, he is an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody. We know he might have been associated with the underwear bomber. But if the American people accept this blindly and casually that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.

I think what would people … have said about Timothy McVeigh? We didn’t assassinate him, who certainly he had done it. Went and put through the courts, then executed him. To start assassinating American citizens without charges, we should think very seriously about this.

12.08pm: Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul isn’t happy with the strike against Awlaki either but for different reasons:

If the American people accept this blindly and casually, that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.

Ron Paul is, among other things, in favour of withdrawing the US military from overseas.

11.56am: ThinkProgress bloggers see Republican neo-con John Bolton on Fox News downplaying the death of Anwar al-Awlaki:

I think it’s important as individual al-Qaida figures and other terrorists are killed that we not read more into it than there is. Consider this analogy, if you were around in the 1920s and somebody said, my God, Vladimir Lenin is dead. The Bolsheviks will never recover from this…. So while al-Awlaki death is significant, I would not read cosmic consequences into it.

ThinkProgress points out that Bolton’s history is flawed, since “Lenin died of natural causes after a period of of semi-retirement from politics” and concludes that it’s an attempt to avoid giving any credit to the Obama regime:

Bolton’s performance on Fox this morning suggests that even this latest incident won’t make conservatives acknowledge reality.



Barack Obama alongside outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen at Fort Myer, Virginia. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

11.45am: Obama is now speaking on the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, saying: “The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaida’s most active operational affiliate.”

“He took the lead in planning efforts to murder innocent Americans,” Obama says, listing Awlaki’s involvement in bomb plots and his repeated calls for American Muslims to turn to violence.

“The death of Awlaki makes another significant milestone in the defeat of al-Qaida,” says Obama, speaking rapidly and briefly, before moving on to the main point of his presence at Fort Myer in Virginia: marking Admiral Mike Mullen’s retirement as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

11.40am: The Guardian’s Chris McGreal has learned that the operation to kill Awlaki wouldn’t have been masterminded by the US military, because all operations in Yemen ops are run by the CIA.

While the US military does operate in Yemen it does so under CIA control to avoid public scrutiny since the CIA is legally allowed to not publicly acknowledge its overseas activities.

11.32am: Charles Kurzman, author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There are so Few Muslim Terrorists, talks to the Guardian’s Dominic Rushe:

Awlaki was the go-to cleric for English-speaking Muslims who sought to engage in violent jihad. He was the most influential radical tourism recruiter for Islamic revolutionary groups and he was savvy about using new media, and old.

But Kurzman said Awlaki’s influence had proved minimal:

He saw revolutionary violence as an individual duty that was required of every Muslim. Fortunately virtually all Muslims disagreed.

Given that Awlaki’s messages is sitting on the internet, easily accessible to millions of English speaking Muslims, it’s very interesting how few have taken him up on his demand that Muslims join the revolutionary movement.

Kurzman calculates that of the 140,000-plus murders committed in the US since 9/11, only a few dozen can be ascribed to Islamic terrorists:

It’s a real threat but I think we should keep it in perspective. The assassination of a single individual is probably not going to change the course of what are after all fringe movements that have posed relatively little threat to the United States.



Anti-government protesters demonstrate against President Saleh earlier this week. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

11.25am: The Guardian’s Yemen correspondent Tom Finn is in London but he rounds up reaction to the death of Awlaki – including scepticism from protesters battling against President Saleh’s regime:

While the demise of Awlaki has not elicited a strong response from the street, some believe it will create a chance for the president to retain the office he has held for 33 years. The US has cultivated Saleh as an ally in its fight against al-Qaida, more than doubling its military aid to $150m last year and Saleh has repeatedly warned the US that his departure would mean gains for the terrorist group.

Awlaki’s assassination was announced in a number of Friday sermons, but reaction was fairly muted.

Fayza Sulieman, a protest leader, said: “We always question the timing of these announcements from our government, Saleh is on the backfoot and on the verge of stepping down and suddenly Anwar Awlaki is killed. We all know that Saleh’s ‘fight’ against Al-Qaida is the only thread of support keeping him in office. We pray that this news does not distract the world from our struggle against this tyrannical regime.”

Walid al-Matari, an opposition protester at Sana’a’s Change Square: “They told us about his death in Friday prayer sermons, so what, as revolutionaries it’s none our business. Saleh wants to cause problems, position himself as saviour, to get more support. We are not interested in Anwar Awlaki, this is just one man. Our fight is against the corrupt regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.”

11.23am: British foreign secretary William Hague has issued a statement:

If confirmed, the death of Anwar al-Awlaki is another significant blow to al-Qaida. With the attempted Detroit bombing and the aeroplane cargo bomb plots he has demonstrated his intent and ability to cause mass terror, whilst his murderous ideology was responsible for inspiring terrorist attacks in the UK and the US.

We must keep up the pressure on al-Qaida and its allies and remain vigilant to the threat we face.

11.19am: My colleague Dominic Rushe talks to an expert on the significance of Anwar al-Awlaki within al-Qaida:

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, head of the the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore said: “Anwar al-Awlaki was not only the a ideological leader, he was an operational leader. He was a Bin Laden in the making but he would have posed an even greater threat because he understood the Western world, especially the Musilms living in the west.”

He said Awlaki “had the charisma” of Bin Laden but lacked his legacy.

“By inspiring and instigating attacks he was trying to reach a central place in the iconography of the global jihad movement.”

Gunaratna said Awlaki had forged close ties with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. “He has been very deferential to him,” said Gunaratna. But he said he believed that Awlaki’s ultimate aim was to become the global figurehead for Islamic extremists.

11am: Obama is speaking shortly after 11am – anyone wanted to see streaming video should follow this link to the White House website.

10.50am: President Obama will be speaking sometime after 11am ET, at a ceremony for Admiral Mike Mullen at Fort Myer in Virginia, and is likely to mention the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki.

MSNBC’s political team ponder the consequences for Obama, especially for his approval ratings, and suspect that voters won’t be enthusiastic:

No president since George HW Bush has had more foreign-policy successes happen under his watch than President Obama. The death of bin Laden. The dismantling of al Qaeda. The ouster of Khaddafy. And the end of combat operations in Iraq. Yet when you look at polls and Obama’s approval rating, he’s getting almost no credit from the American public, a la Bush 41.

“Bush 41″ is George Bush senior, America’s 41st president.

10.40am: A reminder of the sensitivity of US-Yemen counter-terrorism ties come from US diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks last year:

While Saleh’s government publicly insists its own forces are responsible for counter-terrorism operations, the cables detail how the president struck a secret deal to allow the US to carry out cruise missile attacks on [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] targets. The first strike in December last year, which killed dozens of civilians along with wanted jihadis, was presented by Saleh as Yemen’s own work, supported by US intelligence.

But a cable dated 21 December from the ambassador Stephen Seche recorded that “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.'” A second attack took place on 24 December.

A few days later, in a meeting with General David Petraeus, then head of US central command, Saleh admitted lying to his population about the strikes.

10.28am: How does the killing of Awlaki affect the troubled administration of Ali Abullah Saleh? The Guardian’s Chris McGreal in Washington hears from the Obama administration:

An administration official said that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki is sensitive because of concerns that an open admission it was the result of a US drone strike may further destabilise President Ali Abullah Saleh’s already rocky regime.

It is no secret that the Americans have been escalating intelligence and military operations in Yemen over recent months, but Washington has been circumspect in discussing drone attacks and on the ground assaults. Saleh has maintained the fiction that operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been carried out solely by Yemeni troops.

President Obama is expected to speak about al-Awlaki’s death later this morning but the official was unable to say how far he will go in acknowledging US involvement. However, Washington could argue that this was a special case because al-Awlaki was an American citizen and that officials said he had a hand in attacks in the US through his sermons and contact with men such as Major Nidal Hasan, the US army officer who shot dead 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009.

10.20am: Anwar al-Awlaki’s father refused to comment on the reports of his son’s death, telling Tom Finn, the Guardian’s Yemen correspondent, in a phone interview that he didn’t want to speak to the western media.

Finn reports:

Got through to [Anwar al-Awlaki's] father, he lives with Anwar’s wife and children (I could hear them playing in the background). He sounded very upset but said only that he didn’t want to talk about it to the western media. I pressed him once more and asked if he could confirm the death of his son but he said he didn’t want to talk about it. He’s now switched his phone off.

10.04am: For what it’s worth, China’s official Xinhua news agency is reporting that Anwar al-Awlaki is still alive:

The most-wanted US-born Yemeni al-Qaida cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, is alive and was not in the targeted convoy hit by a unmanned US drone Friday, one of his brothers told Xinhua by phone.

That’s all the detail Xinhua gives, although it also makes the point that Awlaki’s death was incorrectly claimed by Yemen’s military last year.

9.53am: Here’s the Guardian’s latest news coverage, with this background:

The US president, Barack Obama, authorised a request to target Awlaki in April last year, making him the first US citizen to be a legal target for assassination in the post-9/11 years.

The US embassy in Sana’a declined to comment on the reports of Awlaki’s death, fuelling speculation that the CIA had indeed got its man. Yemeni officials said they were not yet sure who had killed him. However, they released details of the killing within several hours of it happening, suggesting that Sana’a was either directly involved or well-briefed by the US.

9.40am ET: Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen and a senior al-Qaida leader has been killed in Yemen by a US drone strike, according to reports from the country’s capital, Sana’a.

Awlaki is believed to have been killed on Friday morning, 90 miles (140 kilometres) east of Sana’a, with witnesses saying the militant cleric that Awlaki was getting into a car with a group of supporters when a US drone missile attack hit the vehicle.

Acccording to the Associated Press, the same CIA and US Joint Special Operations Command team that directed the Osama bin Laden assassination was behind the strike.

Awlaki is said to have inspired or directed at least four plots within the US, including the failed underwear bomber in Detroit.

We will be rounding up the reaction to the attack on Awlaki and confirmation of his death. President Obama is speaking at 11am ET (4pm BST) and is likely to mention the strike – so we may learn more then.

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