A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaida, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group.
Dressed in a white Yemeni robe, turban and with a traditional jambiyah dagger tucked into his waistband, Anwar al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
American civilians are to blame, he said, because "the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war."
"Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea," he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in his parents' native Yemen, has used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
He has emerged as a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, the suspect in the November shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, and the December attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner bound for Detroit.
For U.S. officials, Awlaki is of particular concern because he is one of the few English-speaking radical clerics able to explain to young Muslims in America and other Western countries the philosophy of violent jihad.
Awlaki's direct role in al-Qaida — if any — remains unclear. The United States says he is an active participant, though members of his tribe have denied that.
Sunday's video, however, provides the clearest link yet between the cleric and the terror group.
It was produced by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's media arm, which touted the recording as its first interview with Awlaki.
In the months before the Fort Hood shooting, which killed 13 people, Awlaki exchanged e-mails with the alleged attacker, U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by Awlaki's Internet sermons, and approached him for religious advice. Yemen's government says Awlaki is also suspected of contacts with Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who traveled to Yemen last year.
Because of what U.S. officials view as Awlaki's growing role with al-Qaida, the Obama administration placed him on the CIA's list of targets for assassination — despite his American citizenship.