Sept. 30, 2011 — -- A young American who edited al Qaeda's English-language magazine, and had urged Muslims to mount deadly attacks on U.S. targets, was killed in the same CIA drone strike that eliminated Anwar Awlaki in Yemen Friday, U.S. officials said.
Khan, 25, was the Saudi-born, New York-raised editor behind "Inspire" magazine, the English language online publication of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Khan had become a rising figure in jihadist propaganda and an "aspiring" Awlaki, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
But while Awlaki relied on sermons to recruit jihadis, Khan used sarcasm and idiomatic English in an attempt to appeal to Western youth. As Khan himself has said, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I [am] Al Qaeda to the core." He titled a rebuke of toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak "A Cold Diss." Khan's ability to use American vernacular, like a graphic depicting graffiti that reads, "Jihad 4 Eva," had prompted concerns that young Muslims with an interest in jihad and al Qaeda would be drawn to a voice similar to their own.
"He does appear to be increasingly involved with operational activities [of Al Qaeda]", a U.S. official told ABC News in 2010.
British officials found copies of "Inspire" in the apartments of several suspects arrested and charged in connection to a bomb plot in the U.K. Officials said the suspects were avid followers of both the magazine and Awlaki.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-American college student charged with plotting an attack on a Christmas lighting event in Portland, Oregon, last year, was in contact with Khan, and wrote articles for him, authorities say.
Mohamud, who was arrested in an FBI sting, is accused of attempting to detonate what he believed to be a car bomb in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square via cellphone during the annual lighting of the Christmas tree, which had drawn a crowd of thousands. The FBI affidavit alleges that Mohamud told FBI agents that he had written four articles since 2009 for two different on-line jihadist magazines edited and distributed by Samir Khan.
Khan had edited seven separate issues of "Inspire" since launching the publication in 2010, penning such articles as "How To Build A Bomb In the Kitchen of Your Mom." Inspire carried sermons by Awlaki and other jihadi figures, boasted about the failed "printer bomb" cargo plane plot, and paid tribute to Osama bin Laden before and after his death. It outlined various techniques for jihadis to attack Americans with U.S. borders, including using pick-up trucks to mow down pedestrians, how to blow up buildings with natural gas, and how to use an AK-47 automatic rifle. The magazines grew in graphic sophistication with each issue, and Khan seemed to write, edit or design the majority of the content.
In the latest issue, which expressed frustration with Iran for spreading conspiracy theories about 9/11 instead of giving credit to al Qaeda, the editor-in-chief called himself "Yahya Ibrahim," but U.S. officials suspect that's just a pseudonym for Khan.
Khan was killed Friday morning by a CIA drone strike along with Awlaki and two other individuals in Yemen. The missiles hit a vehicle in which they were riding.
"I always felt like I was going to get this call," said Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, North Carolina, who said he had tried to steer Khan away from extremism.
"I set up two interventions in my home," Hough told ABC affiliate WSOC in Charlotte, "and we tried to take him by the hand [and say], 'Look you're going down the wrong path.'" Hough said Khan's parents had distanced themselves from their son's radical views.
Samir Khan Born In Saudi Arabia, Raised in New York
Samir Khan Moves to Yemen
According to Oren Segal, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League who has followed Khan's online rhetoric since 2004, Khan left the U.S. for Yemen in October 2009, which is around the time the fourth and final issue of Jihad Recollections appeared. In Yemen, he launched "Inspire," and after his arrival in Yemen, say U.S. authorities, his on-line efforts had been in conjunction with AQAP.
Inspire's second edition, which was published before the October 2010 printer bomb attempt and included Khan's claim to be "Al Qaeda to the core," featured a photo of the Chicago skyline, which U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials think was a tip-off of the terror group's intention to address the bombs to Jewish targets in Chicago.
"He's a model of what Americans can do in the propaganda sphere," said Segal.
"He's what's next. His message resonates and appeals to Western audiences."