Radical Yemeni cleric may have survived airstrike

SANA, Yemen — A U.S.-born radical cleric is alive despite reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts, friends and relatives said Friday.

The government said it targeted a meeting of high-level al-Qaida operatives in Thursday's airstrike in the remote Shabwa region. It said at least 30 militants were killed, possibly including Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who has been linked to the shooter in last month's attack at the Fort Hood military base in the United States.

On Friday, Abu Bakr al-Awlaki, a friend of the cleric, said he was not among those killed. He refused to say if the cleric had attended the meeting.

Thursday's airstrikes were the second in a week against al-Qaida and were carried out with U.S. and Saudi intelligence help. The newly aggressive Yemeni campaign, backed by American aid, reflects Washington's fears that the terror network could turn this fragmented, unstable nation into an Afghanistan-like refuge in a highly strategic location on the border with oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni government said it struck a gathering of senior al-Qaida figures in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa province, where they were plotting new terror attacks.

Awlaki was born in the United States and moved to Yemen in 2002. Awlaki reportedly corresponded by e-mail with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5.

People close to Awlaki said it is unlikely the cleric would be sitting through a field meeting convened by fighters, considering he saw his role as a scholar and one who gives religious advice and rulings.

A tribal chief in Shabwa, who used the alias Abu Mohammed, said he was informed that Awlaki was alive and is unharmed. He refused to elaborate.

Radical Yemeni cleric may have survived airstrike 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 8:53pm]

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