CIA drones take out Anwar Al-Awlaki
By Rizwan Khatik - Sat Oct 01, 5:09 am
WASHINGTON: In a devastating double blow to Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous franchise, US counterterrorism forces killed two American citizens who played major roles in inspiring attacks against the United States, US and Yemeni officials said Friday.
US-born Anwar Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who edited an Internet magazine, were killed in an airstrike on their convoy in Yemen by a joint CIA-US military operation, according to counterterrorism officials. Al-Awlaki was targeted in the killing; Khan apparently was not targeted directly.
After three weeks of tracking the targets, US armed drones and fighter jets shadowed the Al-Qaeda convoy, before armed drones launched the lethal strike early Friday. The strike killed four operatives in all, officials said.
US President Barack Obama declared the killing of Al-Awlaki a “major blow” to Al-Qaeda and vowed a vigorous US campaign to prevent the terror network and its partners from finding havens anywhere in the world.
Seeking to justify the targeted killing of a US citizen, Obama outlined Al-Awlaki’s involvement in planning and directing the murders of other Americans.
“He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up US cargo planes in 2010,” Obama said. “And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.”
Khan, who was from North Carolina, was not considered operational but had published seven issues of Inspire Magazine offering advice on how to make bombs and the use of weapons. The magazine was widely read.
US officials also believe Al-Awlaki had sought to use poison, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.
Al-Awlaki was killed by the same US military unit that got Osama Bin Laden. Al-Awlaki is the most prominent Al-Qaeda figure to be killed since Bin Laden’s death in May.
US word of Al-Awlaki’s death came after the government of Yemen reported that he had been killed Friday about eight km from the town of Khashef, some 140 km from the capital Sanaa.
The killing of US-born Al-Awlaki has rekindled the debate over how far Washington can go in hunting down and assassinating alleged terror suspects who are American citizens.
Al-Awlaki had been at the center of a court case filed last year challenging the US government’s right to target its own citizens for assassination, which highlighted questions about constitutional rights.
Apart from Obama, many US lawmakers and other Americans cheered the news of Al-Awlaki’s death, but civil rights backers said the case raises serious questions.
Glenn Greenwald, a prominent civil liberties lawyer and commentator, said there had been no effort to indict Al-Awlaki on any crimes and that there was “substantial doubt” about his involvement in any crimes.
“He was simply ordered killed by the president: his judge, jury and executioner,” Greenwald wrote on salon.com.
“What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the US government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process,” he added.
Last year, civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of Al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser, saying it was unconstitutional for the CIA to order the death of an American citizen without due process.
A judge dismissed the case without ruling on the merit of the suit, but said it raises serious constitutional issues.
“Can (the president) order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization?” US District Judge John Bates wrote in December.
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, had not been charged with any crime. He served as imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb, for about a year in 2001. The mosque’s outreach director, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, has said mosque members never saw Al-Awlaki espousing radical ideology while he was there, and he believes Al-Awlaki’s views changed after he left the US.