The US is announcing the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who moved to Yemen where he waged jihad against his former homeland. Assuming this is true — and not a repeat of what happened in 2009 when Awlaki was falsely reported as dead — it’s a major blow against one of al Qaida’s superstars.
What made Awlaki so dangerous wasn’t his so-called operational abilities, as the U.S. is now claiming, although no one is actually bothering to ask what that means. Awlaki was an intellectual, not a fighter. What made Awlaki so dangerous was his somewhat unique ability to inspire disaffected Muslims in the West to take up arms in the cause of jihad.
Awlaki may have rejected the West, but he knew how it worked. He spent many years here in San Diego and spoke both Arabic and English beautifully. Recordings of his sermons are very popular. He also knew how to use the Internet to reach people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that U.S. counterterrorism officials started linking him to terrorism in the very same month that Awlaki started his now-defunct jihadist website.
What I always found fascinating about this so-called holy man got busted for prostitution twice in San Diego and was picked up by San Diego police for “hanging around a school.” Maybe that’s why he needed his martyrdom, so he could wash his sins away. (I’ve written about him before here. I also put together a comprehensive timeline.)
I won’t be shedding any tears for a man who plotted to kill Americans and praised the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan as a “hero.” But Awlaki wasn’t Osama bin Laden. He wasn’t an Iraqi insurgent or a Taliban trying to kill U.S. troops. Awlaki a U.S. citizen.
He knew his death would point out the hypocrisy of a country with a constitution that guarantees its citizens due process of law and then goes out and assassinates them in Yemen with a drone strike. He knew we would succumb to our fears.
Like it or not, he was one of our own.