April 27, 2010 | FDD’s Long War Journal

US-born cleric Awlaki “proud” to have taught al Qaeda operatives

An American-born Muslim cleric who is a senior member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has admitted to training two terrorists who carried out attacks against the US over the past six months.

Anwar al Awlaki, an American citizen who is based in Yemen and serves as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's mufti, said he was “proud” to have trained Major Nidal Hasan, the US Army doctor who murdered 13 soldiers at a deployment center at Fort Hood, Texas, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who failed to detonate a bomb on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

“I am proud to have been their teacher,” Awlaki said in a videotape aired today by Al Jazeera.

Awlaki also accused the US military of carrying out attacks against civilians as part of an effort to get the Yemeni tribes to oppose al Qaeda.

“Several US generals have met local tribal leaders,” Awlaki said. “They want to set up Awakening Councils to set Yemen's tribes against al Qaeda, just as they have done in Iraq. To do this, they are carrying out attacks against civilians and blaming us for them.”

Awlaki's statements were made public just one day after videotape was released showing Abdulmutallab training at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen and issuing his martyrdom statement.

On the tape, Abdulmutallab said that “others like me” have been trained in al Qaeda camps to carry out attacks against the US and the West. “The enemy is in your lands with their armies, the Jews and the Christians and their agents,” he said.

Also yesterday, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula suicide bomber attempted to assassinate the British Ambassador to Yemen as he traveled in a motorcade in Sana'a, the capital city. The suicide bomber was identified as Othman Ali al Sulwi, who was released from jail earlier this year after serving two years for links to al Qaeda.

Anwar al Awlaki's long-standing ties to jihad

Awlaki's ties to radical Islamist terror groups stretch back for more than a decade. In 1998-99, Awlaki served as the Vice President for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, a charity founded by Abdulmajid al Zindani, the man who serves as Osama bin Laden's spiritual advisor and who is designated a terrorist by the US government. The Charitable Society for Social Welfare diverted donations to al Qaeda and other terror groups, according to the FBI.

Awlaki also served as the spiritual advisor to Sept. 11 hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, while a third hijacker, Hani Hanjour, is known to have attended his sermons. Awlaki's phone number was found at the home of Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the masterminds and key facilitators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In late 2002, Awlaki fled the US and went to Britain, where he is known to have preached at the Masjid at Tawhid mosque in London. While there, he encouraged Muslims to seek martyrdom in the cause of jihad.

In 2004, Awlaki and his family left London to live in Shabwa province in Yemen. Awlaki again went to work for Zindani, this time by giving lectures at Iman University, a known breeding ground for Islamist terrorists.

Awlaki has become a prominent cyber-jihadist. Combining his ability to communicate in English with his charisma with young, radical Muslims and his presence on the Web, Awlaki has developed a large following. He gives numerous lectures and speeches via the Internet and teleconferences. US law enforcement agencies and intelligence services consider Awlaki to be a prime recruiter for al Qaeda as well as a provider of the needed religious justifications, or fatwas, for jihadis to carry out attacks.

Awlaki reemerged as a major jihadist figure in the West in the fall of 2009 after it was discovered that he had been in direct email communication with Major Nidal Hasan before the latter killed 13 US soldiers and civilians at a staging center for troops deploying overseas. While Awlaki had originally denied radicalizing Hasan, his emails, which he provided to Al Jazeera, show that he provided the religious justification for Hasan to conduct the attacks.

In March 2010, Awlaki released an audiotape praising Hasan and Abdulmutallab's attacks on the US. He also admitted that he is now at war with the US.

“I for one, was born in the US, and lived in the US for 21 years. America was my home. I was a preacher of Islam involved in non-violent Islamic activism. However, with the American invasion of Iraq and continued US aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the US 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 able Muslim.”

Unlike Adam Gahdan, the US-born al Qaeda propagandist who is based in Pakistan, Awlaki has not been charged with treason, despite his statements against the US and his active support for al Qaeda. The Obama administration has approved of operations that would lead to the assassination of Awlaki.

The US targeted Awlaki and several other top al Qaeda leaders at a meeting in Yemen on Dec. 24, 2009, just one day before Abdulmutallab's failed attack over Detroit. Awlaki was at the meeting to provide the needed religious justification for a planned al Qaeda campaign to conduct attacks against Yemeni and US targets in response to the controversial Dec. 17 airstrikes against al Qaeda in Abyan and Sana'a, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.

Among those believed to be at the meeting were Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; his deputy Said al Shihri; and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al Quso, an al Qaeda operative wanted by the FBI for his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. The leaders survived the airstrike.

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