Senior al-Qaeda figure al-Awlaki killed in U.S. airstrike

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen on early Friday morning killed several al-Qaeda members, including senior figure Anwar al-Awlaki, Yemeni and U.S. officials said. Few details were immediately released. The drone strike happened on early Friday morning in the Yemeni governorate of Al Jawf, northeast of the capital of Sana`a.

At least two prominent members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were killed in the strike, according to the Yemeni government, but the total number of casualties was not immediately known. Among those killed was U.S.-born radical Islamic preacher Anwar al-Awlaki who had become a senior figure in the al-Qaeda militant organization in recent years and was on the CIA`s list of targets for assassination. He is believed to have been involved in a number of terrorist plots. "The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda`s most active operational affiliate," said U.S. President Barack Obama. "Awlaki was the leader of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans." U.S. officials believe Awlaki was involved in the failed attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it was landing at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Michigan. He is also believed to have directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010 and was in close contact with Nidal Malik Hasan who killed 13 and injured 29 at Fort Hood in Texas. "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," Obama said. "The death of al-Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates." Nonetheless, Obama said that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a `dangerous` though `weakened` organization. "Going forward, we will remain vigilant against any threats to the United States, or our allies and partners," the U.S. leader said. "But make no mistake: This is further proof that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world." The U.S. attack comes just months after another U.S. airstrike in the Nisab District of Shabwah Governorate killed two al-Qaeda mid-level leaders. But al-Awlaki, who was the target of the airstrike, managed to escape unharmed. One of the other casualties in Friday`s airstrike was U.S.-born al-Qaeda member Samir Khan who was one of the editors of Inspire, an English-language online magazine produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The seventh issue of Inspire was released earlier this week and contained an article written by Khan. In the article, Khan discussed media issues and criticized the American government for `allowing` hate speech against Islam. "Besides the many other political and military blunders, America had done one thing which was a part and parcel of their democracy: let their hate mongering preachers and right-wing groups loose on Islam; this is the inherent problem with a democracy," he wrote. Khan added: "They hypocritically say they love the Muslims and Islam and then stab us in the back saying, `And our freedom allows us to malign your religion; what a great and free country this is!` Although the government is not directly linked to these individuals and groups, the fact that their laws allow such people to preach blasphemy against our religion - keeping in mind that it was during a time when America needed the Muslim world`s support the most - it caused their glass house to shatter from the inside." Khan, who was unknown to the outside world until the first publication of Inspire, also said `the Muslim world holds America with suspicion`. "It is not rare to find in a typical Muslim household in America, for example, that has at least one member that holds something against the American government, even if that person is inherently secular," he said. The al-Qaeda member also described how he attended mosques in over ten states across the United States, claiming that he saw large groups of Muslims with anti-American sentiments. "We exhibit Islam and they (America) exhibit man-made failure. This battle is going to continue until they find themselves powerless under our dominion," Khan said. The deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan come only months after global al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Bin Laden was killed on May 1st by special U.S. forces during a secret operation which had not been approved by the Pakistani government. It also comes only months after Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa, was shot dead by Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces at a checkpoint in Mogadishu. Fazul, who was killed in early June, was also a key suspect in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings that left hundreds killed. And earlier this month, senior al-Qaeda member Younis Al Mauritani was one of three suspected terrorists arrested in the suburbs of Quetta, the largest city and the provincial capital of Pakistan`s Balochistan Province. Officials said Al Mauritani was mainly responsible for planning and conduct international operations and had been personally tasked by Bin Laden to focus on hitting targets of economical importance in the United States, Europe and Australia.