Home inContext U.S. Takes Out Top al-Qaeda Members

U.S. Takes Out Top al-Qaeda Members

Samara Greenberg

American-born al-Qaeda inspirational leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Friday morning along with another American citizen and al-Qaeda member, Samir Khan, when a U.S. drone strike hit their convoy in Yemen. Yemeni officials along with U.S. drones and satellites have been monitoring al-Awlaki for three weeks since his hideout was pinpointed by Yemeni intelligence. A total of four were killed in the strike.

Anwar al-Awlaki, with his perfect English language skills, worked to recruit Westerners to al-Qaeda and the jihadist cause from his base in Yemen. He has been linked to the botched “underwear bomber” plot in 2009 and the Fort Hood massacre that same year, among other planned terrorist attacks. Samir Khan, killed along with al-Awlaki although not reportedly the target, also recruited from Western countries and served as editor of the organization’s online English magazine, Inspire. The magazine promotes attacks against U.S. targets and includes articles that explain, for example, how to make a bomb in a kitchen and use a pickup truck to “mow down the enemies of Allah.”

Anwar al-Awlaki (L) and Samir Khan (R), killed in a U.S. air strike on Sept. 30.

In the magazine’s latest issue celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Khan stressed the importance of the media for the jihadist cause, relaying words given to him by the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Weheishy: “The media work is half of the jihad.” While a piece by al-Awlaki was not included in this issue, the magazine’s back cover said he would be releasing a new article soon.

On Friday, President Obama called the strike a “milestone,” stating that al-Awlaki “took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans…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.”

The deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan are the latest in a string of high-profile targeted attacks under President Obama, with the largest of course being Osama bin Laden. They underscore the president’s continuation of the counterterrorism strategy put into place by his predecessor following the devastating September 11 attacks.