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U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric killed by drone strike

He was al-Qaida's pied piper, a gifted writer and preacher whose words were a siren's call to violent jihad for young Muslims.

Though he was never known to fire a shot, Anwar al-Awlaki, 40, was linked to more terrorist plots against U.S. and other Western targets in the past five years than Osama bin Laden himself.

The U.S.-born Muslim cleric played key roles in the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage in 2009 that killed 13 people, as well as last year's foiled attempt to put bombs on cargo planes bound to the United States. His words led a young Nigerian to attempt to blow up a jetliner over Detroit, and inspired an unemployed Pakistani man to drive a bomb-laden vehicle into the heart of New York's Times Square.

Al-Awlaki regularly exhorted Western Muslims to attack without waiting for outside instruction. "Fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers," he once declared.

So effective was his message that the CIA last year put him on the agency's official target list, making him the first American citizen to be designated for death, wherever he could be found, without judicial process.

His death Friday by drone strike in a remote corner of Yemen ended his colorful career as a prominent propagandist and strategic thinker for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The other American killed in the strike, Samir Khan, published a slick English-language Web magazine, Inspire, which spouted al-Qaida's ideology of attacks on Westerners and even gave how-to manuals — like an article titled, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."

Late Friday, officials say intelligence indicates that al-Qaida's top Saudi bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, also was killed. The death has not been officially confirmed.

Al-Asiri is believed to have made the explosives used in the foiled Christmas Day airline plot and last year's attempted cargo plane bombing.

President Barack Obama heralded the drone strike Friday as a "major blow to al-Qaida's most active operational affiliate."

The drone strike was the biggest success in the Obama administration's intensified campaign to take out al-Qaida's leadership since the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The pursuit of al-Awlaki and Friday's strike were directed by the same U.S. special unit that directed the raid on bin Laden's hideout in May.

The strike appeared to be the first time in the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that a U.S. citizen had been deliberately killed by U.S. forces.

Al-Awlaki lived his formative years in the United States and was once regarded as a voice of moderate, tolerant Islam. Born in Las Cruces, N.M., in 1971, while his Yemeni father was attending New Mexico State University on a scholarship, al-Awlaki spent his first seven years in the United States and later returned to attend college at Colorado State University.

Al-Awlaki was angered by what he saw as an anti-Muslim backlash after the World Trade Center towers fell, so he eventually settled his family in Yemen.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric killed by drone strike 09/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:17am]
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