The U.S. Case Against Awlaki

SITE Intelligence Group / AP Photo

Anwar al-Awlaki was, until earlier today, chief of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active al Qaeda affiliate outside   Afghanistan/Pakistan.

In 2010, the Obama administration ruled that it had the rights to target for assassination Awlaki, an American citizen born in Las Cruces, N.M,. in 1971, because he was a terrorist.

The government has not presented evidence against Awlaki. But government officials said that the cleric played a significant operational role in any number of terrorist plots against the United States, and called for violence against American men, women  and children.

The Justification: How does the U.S. government have the right to target for killing a U.S. citizen?

Some of his career lowlights, according to the U.S. government, include the following operations:

* The U.S . government claims that Awlaki has tried to obtain weapons of mass destruction – specifically poisons such as cyanide and ricin – for use in attacking Westerners.

* Awlaki specifically directed Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab in December 2009 to detonate the “underwear” bomb on board a Christmas Day Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. The government said that Awlaki told Abdulmutallab to detonate the bomb while over U.S. airspace so as to maximize casualties.

* In October 2010, AQAP attempted to explode two U.S. cargo planes by detonating explosives hidden in ink cartridges mailed to synagogues in Chicago. The U.S. government said that Awlaki directly supervised this failed terrorist plot.

* In 2010, Awlaki communicated with Rajib Karim, then a British airlines worker, seeking a way to get a bomb aboard a plane at Heathrow Airport. Karim was convicted in March 2011 in a British court on terrorism charges, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The U.S. government also said Awlaki incited terrorism:

* In a May 2010 interview with “Al Qaeda Media,” Awlaki said he supported operations such as the failed Christmas Day bombing even though they target  innocent civilians.

“With regard to the issue of ‘civilians,’ this term has become prevalent these days, but I prefer to use the terms employed by our jurisprudents. They classify people as either combatants or noncombatants,” he said. “My message to the Muslims in general, and to those in the Arabian Peninsula in particular, is that we should participate in this jihad against America.”

Awlaki said attacks against U.S .service members, such as those shot by Lt. Nidal Hasan, were perfectly valid: “How can we possibly oppose an operation like Nidal Hasan’s? He killed American soldiers on their way to Afghanistan and Iraq. Who could possibly oppose this?”

* The U.S. government blames Awlaki for “inspiring” terrorist attacks against the U.S., including Fort Hood shooter Hasan – who emailed with him, having attended some of Awlaki’s sermons in Virginia. Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad claimed to have been “inspired by” Awlaki.

* In March 2010, Awlaki said in an audio message that “America is evil” and called for violence against the U.S. “With the American invasion of Iraq and continued U.S. aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the U.S. and being a Muslim, and I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other Muslim,” he said.

* Awlaki wrote several articles for INSPIRE  magazine, published by AQAP, to justify terrorist attacks.

The U.S. government also notes that in January a Yemeni court sentenced Awlaki in absentia to ten years in prison for “forming an armed gang” to target foreigners and law enforcement personnel.


-Jake Tapper