Profile: Anwar al-Awlaki
Posted: November 24, 2009
Updated: November 2011
Prior to his death in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric living in Yemen, encouraged attacks against America and the West by propagating radical online lectures to English-speaking audiences.
In many of al-Awlaki's videos, he called on Muslims around the world to kill Americans. In a video released on November 8, 2010, titled "Make it known and clear to mankind," al-Awlaki said, "Don't consult with anybody in killing the Americans, fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance," he said.
Al-Awlaki also warns of future attacks against American interests both in the U.S. and abroad. In a video interview released in its entirety on May 23, 2010, he said, "Oh America, if you attack us, we will attack you, and if you kill us, we will kill you... These American soldiers heading to Afghanistan and Iraq will be killed. We will kill them if we can, there in Fort Hood, or we will kill them in Afghanistan and Iraq."
In another video released on March 17, 2010, al-Awlaki spoke about the duty incumbent on all Muslims to fight against the U.S. and proclaimed that "jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other able Muslim." Al-Awlaki further threatened that "America cannot and will not win… there is no rolling back of the worldwide jihad movement."
Hundreds of al-Awalaki videos, which were available on YouTube with a combined total of 3.5 million views, were removed by YouTube on November 3, 2010. Nevertheless, hundreds more remain available on YouTube and other video sharing sites.
Al-Awlaki's materials have inspired several American Muslim extremists to carry out terrorist attacks in the U.S. and join terrorist groups overseas. The Yemeni-based cleric reportedly exchanged more than a dozen emails with Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged gunman who killed 13 people and wounded 32 others at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas in November 2009. In his May 2010 interview, al-Awlaki called Hasan "one of my students" and in an interview held a month after the Fort Hood attack, al-Awlaki explained that he first met Hasan nine years earlier when he served as the imam of a mosque attended by Hasan in the Washington, D.C. area. In their subsequent e-mail communications, Hasan asked al-Awlaki if a Muslim soldier serving in the American Army was allowed to kill his fellow soldiers, expressed his support of killing Israeli civilians and mentioned various justifications for "targeting the Jews with rockets."
Al-Awlaki has also admitted that, in the fall of 2009, he met with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who later attempted to detonate a bomb on a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. American officials have indicated that al-Awlaki personally instructed Abdulmutallab to detonate his bomb over American airspace to maximize casualties.
American officials have also indicated that Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, told investigators he was influenced by al-Awlaki. Sharif Mobley, an American who was arrested in Yemen in March 2010 for his alleged links to Al Qaeda, also reportedly exchanged emails and met with al-Awlaki.
For several years, al-Awlaki has used his now-defunct blog to spread his sermons, literature and other materials that encourage readers to carry out attacks against Western targets. Several convicted terrorists in the U.S., Canada and Britain were found with al-Awlaki materials at the time of their respective arrests.
While al-Awlaki's sermons and literature primarily focus on condemning the West, he also reviles Israel and Jews. In his audio recording released on March 17, 2010, Al-Awlaki used America's support for Israel as justification for attacks against American interests. "What benefit is it to the American people to suffer for the sake of supporting Israel?" al-Awlaki asked.
In one post on his blog, al-Awlaki further criticized Israel and the Jews, claiming that the Jews "have a hidden agenda" and have infiltrated every government in the world. He has also promoted the conspiracy theory that contends that Israelis were responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, previously served as the imam of mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia. Two of those mosques were attended by three of the September 11 hijackers. Al-Awlaki left the U.S. in 2002 after he was questioned by the FBI about the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In January 2011, he was sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison by a Yemeni security court, which accuses him and two other men of being members of Al Qaeda and plotting to kill foreigners. The charges against al-Awlaki were announced as part of a trial against Hisham Assem, who allegedly carried out an attack in on an oil firm's compound in October, killing one person. The third defendant charged, Osman al-Awlaki, the cousin of al-Awlaki, is also still at large. Charges against al-Awlaki have not been filed in the U.S.