Anwar Awlaki, not Osama Bin Laden, was labeled the "most dangerous man in the world" by a New York Police Department counterterror official during a briefing Wednesday.
The description of the U.S. born, Yemen-based cleric and Al Qaeda recruiter came as British officials announced that forensic evidence shows at least one of the two printer bombs shipped from Yemen by Al Qaeda could have blown up over the Eastern U.S. as they were brought by cargo plane to Chicago.
The bombs, which were placed inside toner cartridges, were shipped on FedEx and UPS cargo flights to Chicago addresses late last month. In a statement by London police, however, authorities now believe the bomb that was discovered in the UK was intended to explode mid air, while the plane carrying it was somewhere over the eastern seaboard of the US.
"Forensic examination has indicated that if the device had activated it would have been at 10:30 hours BST (0930 GMT) on Friday, 29 October 2010," London police said in their statement, meaning the bomb would have detonated at 5:30 a.m. "If the device had not been removed from the aircraft the activation could have occurred over the eastern seaboard of the U.S."
At a briefing on the parcel bombs and on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni Al Qaeda affiliate that claimed credit for the bombing, Lt. Kevin Yorke of the NYPD's Intelligence Division, said of AQAP operative Awlaki, "If you look at his terrorist resume for the things he's been involved with you can really call him the most dangerous man in the world."
Awlaki, an AQAP operative, has been linked to many plots against U.S. citizens, including last year's Ft. Hood shooting and the attempted Christmas Day "underwear" bombing of Northwest flight 253. Earlier this week, Awlaki released a video statement saying that no one needs special religious permission to kill Americans because they are "devils" and the "enemy."
Earlier this year, President Obama signed a directive ordering that Awlaki -- a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen -- be killed by the CIA or military Special. Awlaki's father, a former Yemeni diplomat, has sued the U.S. government to prevent the order from being followed, claiming that the directive violates his son's due process rights under the Constitution. There is a hearing on the suit in Washington this afternoon.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, had long been of interest to American law enforcement authorities because of his apparent ties to several of the 9/11 hijackers. When he returned to Yemen several years ago after living in the U.S. and the U.K., intelligence authorities say he became an operative for AQAP.
Efforts to locate Awlaki intensified last year after the Ft. Hood shooting, which left 13 dead. Army Major Nidal Hasan, charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in the case, was in email contact with Awlaki before the shooting, and Awlaki later publicly praised Hasan for the rampage.
After the attempted "underwear" bombing of Northwest flight 253 over Detroit last Christmas, authorities said suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had trained in Yemen and had been in contact with Awlaki. Shortly after the attempted underwear bomb, the White House authorized the lethal order on Awlaki.
Awlaki's stature in AQAP, first as a radical preacher, then as an operational figure, has made the cleric as wanted by U.S. forces as Osama bin Laden. According to one former official, the Obama White House has told governments in the Middle East that they are desperate to kill Awlaki.