WASHINGTON - (AP) - President Barack Obama declared the killing of a fiery American-born cleric in Yemen a "major blow" toal-Qaida's most active affiliate, and vowed a vigorous U.S.campaign to prevent the terror network and its partners fromfinding a haven anywhere in the world.
Anwar al-Awlaki, and a second American, Samir Khan, were killedby a joint CIA-U.S. military air strike on their convoy in Yemenearly Friday, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition ofanonymity to discuss classified matters. Both men played key rolesin inspiring attacks against the U.S., and their killings are adevastating double blow to al-Qaida's most dangerous franchise.
Seeking to justify the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen, Obamaoutlined al-Awlaki's involvement in planning and directing attemptsto murder Americans.
"He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane onChristmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow upU.S. cargo planes in 2010," Obama said. "And he repeatedly calledon individuals in the United States and around the globe to killinnocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda."
Yemeni intelligence pinpointed al-Awlaki's hideout in the townof Al Khasaf, a Yemeni official said, speaking on condition ofanonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. "He was closelymonitored ever since," by Yemeni intelligence on the ground,backed by U.S. satellite and drones from the sky, the officialsaid.
After three weeks of tracking the targets, U.S. armed drones andfighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki's convoy early Friday, then droneslaunched their lethal strike. The strike killed four operatives inall, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discussmatters of intelligence.
Al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeniparents, who had not been charged with any crime. Civil libertiesgroups have questioned the government's authority to kill anAmerican without trial.
Al-Awlaki was targeted in the killing, but Khan, who edited aslick Jihadi Internet magazine, apparently was not targeteddirectly. The identity of the other two al-Qaida suspects is notknown, the Yemeni official said.
Khan, who was from North Carolina, wasn't considered anoperational leader but had published seven issues online of InspireMagazine, a widely read Jihadi site offering advice on how to makebombs and the use of weapons.
Obama praised Yemen's government and security forces for itsclose cooperation with the U.S. in fighting Al-Qaida in the ArabianPeninsula, arguably the terror network's most dangerous affiliate.With al-Awlaki's death, Obama said the affiliate remains "adangerous but weakened terrorist organization."
Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details ofal-Awlaki's involvement in anti-U.S. operations, including theattempted Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft. Theofficial said that al-Awlaki specifically directed the man accusedof trying to bomb the airliner to detonate an explosive device overU.S. airspace to maximize casualties.
The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role insupervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S.cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside twopackages mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes al-Awlaki hadsought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attackWesterners.
Al-Awlaki was killed by the CIA working in concert with the sameU.S. military unit that got Osama bin Laden - the elitecounterterrorism unit known as the Joint Special OperationsCommand.
Counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Yemenhas improved in recent weeks, allowing betterintelligence-gathering on al-Awlaki's movements, U.S. officialssaid.
Al-Awlaki is the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killedsince bin Laden's death in May. But the killing raises questionsthat the death of other al-Qaida leaders, including bin Laden, didnot. Civil liberties groups have questioned the government'sauthority to kill an American without trial.
U.S. officials have said they believe al-Awlaki inspired theactions of Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is charged with13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attemptedpremeditated murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas.
In New York, the Pakistani-American man who pleaded guilty tothe May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt said he was inspiredby al-Awlaki after making contact over the Internet.
Al-Awlaki also is believed to have had a hand in mail bombsaddressed to Chicago-area synagogues, the air cargo packagesintercepted in Dubai and Europe in October 2010.
The senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, C. A.Dutch Ruppersberger, said that al-Awlaki's most dangerousoperational role was his continual involvement in recruitingAmericans willing to carry out terror attacks inside the U.S.
"His whole strategy was to go after individual jihadists insidethe U.S. who were willing to go out and attack Americans,"Ruppersberger said, citing the Fort Hood shooting as an example.
Al-Awlaki wrote an article in the latest issue of the terrorgroup's Internet magazine, justifying attacking civilians in theWest. It's titled "Targeting the Populations of Countries that Areat War with the Muslims."
Al-Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki of Yemen, had sued Obamaand other administration officials 13 months ago to try to stopthem from targeting his son for death. The father, represented bythe American Civil Liberties Union and the Center forConstitutional Rights, argued that international law and theConstitution prevented the administration from assassinating hisson unless he presented a specific imminent threat to life orphysical safety and there were no other means to stop him.
But U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out the lawsuit inDecember, saying a judge does not have authority to review thepresident's military decisions and that al-Awlaki's father did nothave the legal right to sue on behalf of his son.
Al-Awlaki served as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in FallsChurch, Va., a Washington suburb, for about a year in 2001.
The mosque's outreach director, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, hassaid that mosque members never saw al-Awlaki espousing radicalideology while he was there and that he believes Awlaki's viewschanged after he left the U.S.