May 6, 2011— -- Less than a week after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan, U.S. drones have tried to killed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.
Officials say the missile strike did not succeed in killing Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who has become a leading voice of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda.
Yemeni officials said two al Qaeda operatives were killed in the Thursday strike in a remote area of Yemen.
The attempt to kill Awlaki was the first acknowledged U.S military strike inside Yemen in a year. In May 2010, missiles killed an envoy of Yemeni president Saleh by mistake. Unlike previous strikes in Yemen that have involved Tomahawk cruise missile launched by Navy ships, Thursday's strike involved a predator drone. Until now, drones flying over Yemen had been unarmed.
In early 2010, the Obama administration authorized the CIA and the U.S. military to kill Awlaki even though he is a U.S. citizen. Born in New Mexico, Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2004. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad said he was inspired by Awlaki, and accused Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan exchanged emails with Awlaki. In January 2010, Awlaki said he had had contact with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be "underwear bomber" accused of trying to blow up Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
In September, the Yemeni government said it had surrounded Awlaki in the village of Houta, but then said it had instead captured two-dozen al Qaeda fighters and a "vital terror headquarters."
In a statement, the Yemeni government said the military was still "combing the area, searching for militants before declaring the area safe for its residents to return." The military says the battle began after a failed attack by AQAP on a pipeline. Thousands of civilians fled their homes in the wake of the fighting.
Yemeni officials said they believed Awlaki was near the village with a group of suspected al Qaeda militants. But a Yemeni diplomat who had spoken to military commanders on the scene told ABC News there was no confirmation that Awlaki was at the location.