This is the third time that radicalized Al Qaeda celebrity Anwar al Awlaki has been reported killed, but this is the first time it has been confirmed by the US as well as “tribal sources”. According to NYT:
In a significant and dramatic strike in the campaign against Al Qaeda, the Defense Ministry here said American-born preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading figure in the group’s outpost in Yemen, was killed on Friday morning.
In Washington senior Obama administration officials confirmed that Mr. Awlaki was dead. But the circumstances surrounding the killing remained unclear.
Mr. Awlaki’s Internet lectures and sermons have been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May, 2010, cited Mr. Awlaki as an inspiration.
Mr. Awlaki’s name has been associated with many plots in the United States and elsewhere after individuals planning violence were drawn to his engaging lectures broadcast over the Internet.
Those individuals included Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed; the young men who planned to attack Fort Dix, N.J.; and a 21-year-old British student who told the police she stabbed a member of Parliament after watching 100 hours of Awlaki videos.
Last year, the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen sought to install Mr. Awlaki as the leader of the group in Yemen, which apparently thought Mr. Awlaki’s knowledge of the United States and his status as an Internet celebrity might help the group’s operations and fund-raising efforts.
Mr. Awlaki was accused of having connections to the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former engineering student at University College London, who is awaiting trial in the United States for his attempt to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it landed in Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009. The bomb did not explode.
Mr. Awlaki has been linked to numerous plots against the United States, including the botched underwear bombing. He has taken to the Internet with stirring battle cries directed at young American Muslims. “Many of your scholars,” Mr. Awlaki warned last year, are “standing between you and your duty of jihad.”
Major Hasan had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki before his attack on Fort Hood.
There are two stories here. One is the impact of Awlaki’s death on Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, the political survival of Yemeni’s president Saleh, and the Arab Spring. I don’t care about that story, frankly. The story I do care about is the impact on American muslims, who were targeted by Awlaki and exploited and preyed upon by him to wage his jihad on our shores. As the story above makes clear, Awlaki has had a frightening success in encouraging domestic jihad. Though he was a amateur and dilettante scholar of Islam, he was a master propagandist, and shamelessly leveraged his credibility from his pre-9-11, pre-radicalized days as an imam in Virginia to lend his post-9-11, psychotic delusions a stamp of authenticity which has led weak minded and troubled American Muslims astray.
The inevitable debate will rage over his citizenship and whether the Obama Administration was justified in an “extrajudicial killing” without due process. I’m not comfortable with the State having the power to kill, but the argument here is far stronger than that for capital punishment, especially since Awlaki removed himself from the reach of the law by hightailing to Yemen’s backwaters, something no one on Death Row can do. As Awlaki renounced his citizenship, and called on other American muslims to wage war against America, there really should be no debate – the man was a literal traitor to his country, and on this point at least the Constitution is quite clear: Article 3, Section 3 and the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Haupt vs. the United States (1947).
American muslims should at least not mourn his passing. The man was a clear and present danger to our muslim community in America, our “public enemy #1” who labeled all of us “traitors to the Ummah” for our condemnation of violence and terrorism. The burden we have borne because of the actions of those like Hasan who acted on Awlaki’s urging has been a terrible one, and would have continued had Awlaki remained alive.
We should all feel relieved that Alwaki will no longer prey upon us. Does this mean we should celebrate his death? No, we should not celebrate the death of any human being. But as far as Awlaki self-declared himself to be a muslim, the only appropriate response is Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un – to Allah we belong, and to Him is our eventual Return.
What Allah will do to Awlaki is of course up to Him. Allah knows best.
Related: fantastic debates at Talk Islam about the legality of extrajudicial killing, and an excerpt from a magnificent rebuttal to Awlaki’s call to jihad by a real American imam, Abu Laith Luqman Ahmed.
Also, for the legal geeks among you, the case of Hamdi vs Rumsfeld, which is often quoted in reference to Awlaki. For the record, I do not think the Hamdi case applies, but that’s a debate for another time.