This article is about a person who has recently died. Some information, such as that pertaining to the circumstances of the person's death and surrounding events, may change as more facts become known.
Born Anwar Nasser Abdulla Aulaqi
April 22, 1971(1971-04-22)
Las Cruces, New Mexico,
Died September 30, 2011(2011-09-30) (aged 40)
al-Jawf Governorate, Yemen
Citizenship U.S. and Yemen (dual)
Alma mater Colorado State University (B.S.)
San Diego State University (M.A.)
George Washington University (Ph.D., incomplete)
Occupation Lecturer, former imam, Al-Qaeda regional commander
Organization Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Known for Alleged senior Al-Qaeda recruiter and motivator
Influenced by Sayyid Qutb
* Nawaf al-Hazmi
* Khalid al-Mihdhar
* Hani Hanjour
* Michael Finton
* Fort Hood shooter
* Christmas Day bomber
* Sharif Mobley
* Times Square bomber
* Roshonara Choudhry
* Mohamed Alessa
* Carlos Almonte
* Zachary Chesser
Height 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m)
Weight 160 pounds (73 kg)
Religion Sunni Islam
Parents Nasser al-Aulaqi (father)
Relatives Yemen Prime Minister
Ali Mohammed Mujur
Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled Aulaqi; Arabic: أنور العولقي Anwar al-‘Awlaqī; April 22, 1971 – September 30, 2011) was a Yemeni-American imam who was an engineer and educator by training. According to U.S. officials, he was a senior talent recruiter and motivator who was involved with planning operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. He was implicated in helping to motivate at least three attacks on U.S. soil, and was the first U.S. citizen to be approved for targeted killing. With a blog, a Facebook page, and many YouTube videos, he had been described as the "bin Laden of the Internet". U.S. President Barack Obama described Awlaki as "the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula".
Al-Awlaki reportedly spoke with, trained, and preached to a number of al-Qaeda members and affiliates, including three of the 9/11 hijackers, alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, and alleged "Christmas Day bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; he was also reportedly involved in planning the latter's attack.
According to U.S. officials, al-Awlaki was promoted to the rank of "regional commander" within al-Qaeda in 2009. He repeatedly called for jihad against the United States. In April 2010, Barack Obama approved Al-Awlaki's targeted killing, an action unsuccessfully challenged by al-Awlaki's father and civil rights groups.
Al-Awlaki was believed to be in hiding in Southeast Yemen in the last years of his life. The Yemeni government began trying him in absentia in November 2010, for plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda, and a Yemenite judge ordered that he be captured "dead or alive". U.S. unmanned drones were deployed in Yemen to search for and kill him, firing at and failing to kill him at least once, before he was assassinated in a drone attack in Yemen on September 30, 2011.
* 1 Early life
* 2 Ideology
* 3 Later life, and alleged ties to terrorism
o 3.1 In the United States; 1991–2002
o 3.2 In the United Kingdom; 2002–04
o 3.3 In Yemen; 2004–11
+ 3.3.1 Reaching out to the United Kingdom
o 3.4 Other connections
+ 3.4.1 Fort Hood shooter
+ 3.4.2 Christmas Day "Underwear Bomber"
+ 3.4.3 Sharif Mobley
+ 3.4.4 Times Square bomber
+ 3.4.5 Stabbing of British former minister Stephen Timms
+ 3.4.6 Seattle Weekly cartoonist death threat
+ 3.4.7 British passenger plane plot
+ 3.4.8 Cargo planes bomb plot
* 4 Final years
* 5 Targeted killing order and lawsuit against the U.S.
o 5.1 Targeted killing
* 6 Works
o 6.1 Written works
o 6.2 Lectures
* 7 References
* 8 See also
* 9 External links
* 10 Further reading
Al-Awlaki's parents are from Yemen. His father, Nasser al-Aulaqi, was a Fulbright Scholar who earned a master's degree in agricultural economics at New Mexico State University in 1971, received a doctorate at the University of Nebraska, and worked at the University of Minnesota from 1975 to 1977. Nasser also served as Agriculture Minister and as President of Sana'a University, and is a prominent member of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling party. Yemen's Prime Minister since March 2007, Ali Mohammed Mujur, is a relative of al-Awlaki.
Al-Awlaki was born in the United States, but when he was seven years old he and his family returned to Yemen in 1978. He then lived in Yemen for 11 years, and studied at Azal Modern School.
Al-Awlaki returned to Colorado in 1991 to attend college. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994), where he was President of the Muslim Student Association. He attended the university on a foreign student visa and a government scholarship from Yemen, apparently by claiming to be born in that country, according to a former U.S. security agent. He spent a summer of his college years training with the Afghan mujahideen who had fought the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan with U.S. and Saudi backing. Al-Awlaki also earned an M.A. in Education Leadership from San Diego State University. He worked on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development from January to December 2001.
Al-Awlaki's Islamic education consisted of a few intermittent months with various scholars, and reading and contemplating works by several prominent Islamic scholars. Puzzled Muslim scholars said they did not understand al‑Awlaki's popularity, because while he spoke fluent English and could therefore reach a large non-Arabic-speaking audience, he lacked formal Islamic training and study. Douglas Murray, executive director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a right-wing think tank that studies British radicalization, says his followers "will routinely describe Awlaki as a vital and highly respected scholar, [while he] is actually an al-Qaida-affiliate nut case".
Al-Awlaki was called an Islamic fundamentalist, and accused of encouraging terrorism. He developed animosity towards the U.S. and became a proponent of Takfiri and Jihadi thinking, while retaining Islamism, according to one research paper. While imprisoned in Yemen, al-Awlaki became influenced by the works of Sayyid Qutb, an originator of the contemporary "anti-Western Jihadist movement". He would read 150–200 pages a day of Qutb's works. He described himself as "so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly".
He was noted for attracting young men with his lectures, especially U.S.-based and Britain-based Muslims. Terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann calls al-Awlaki "one of the principal jihadi luminaries for would-be homegrown terrorists. His fluency with English, his unabashed advocacy of jihad and mujahideen organizations, and his Web-savvy approach are a powerful combination." He calls al-Awlaki's lecture "Constants on the Path of Jihad", which he says was based on a similar document written by al-Qaeda's founder, the "virtual bible for lone-wolf Muslim extremists". Philip Mudd, formerly of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and the FBI's top intelligence adviser, said: "He's a magnetic character. He's a powerful orator."
Later life, and alleged ties to terrorism
In the United States; 1991–2002
In 1993, while he was a college student and the same year as the first World Trade Center bombing, al-Awlaki took a vacation trip to Afghanistan like "many other thousands of young Muslim men with jihadist zeal". Much of the nation was under the control of various mujahideen factions, after the withdrawal of the Soviet occupation. Mullah Mohammed Omar would not form the Taliban until 1994. When al-Awlaki returned to campus, he showed increased interest in politics and religion. He wore Afghan hats and Eritrean t-shirts, and quoted Abdullah Azzam—who theologically justified the jihad to liberate Muslim lands such as Afghanistan and Palestine by fighting infidel invaders, and was later known as a mentor to Osama bin Laden.
In 1994, al-Awlaki married a cousin from Yemen. He served as imam of the Denver Islamic Society from 1994–96. Although he preached eloquently against vice and sin, he left two weeks after he was chastised by an elder for encouraging a student at the mosque to fight jihad. He then served as imam of the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque at the edge of San Diego, California, from 1996–2000. There, he had a following of 200–300 people and had been arrested on allegations of soliciting prostitutes.
In 1998 and 1999, he served as Vice President for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) in San Diego. That charity was founded by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani of Yemen, who has been designated by the U.S. government as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" who has worked with Osama bin Laden. During a terrorism trial, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Brian Murphy testified that CSSW was a "front organization to funnel money to terrorists", and U.S. federal prosecutors have described it as being used to support bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
The FBI investigated al-Awlaki from June 1999 through March 2000 for possible fundraising for Hamas, links to al-Qaeda, and a visit in early 2000 by a close associate of "the Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman (who was serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and plotting to blow up NYC landmarks). The FBI's interest was also triggered because he had been contacted by an al-Qaeda operative who had bought a battery for bin Laden's satellite phone, Ziyad Khaleel. But it was unable to unearth sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution.
Nawaf al-Hazmi, for whom al-Awlaki was reportedly a spiritual adviser
Khalid al-Mihdhar, for whom al-Awlaki was reportedly a spiritual adviser
Planning for the 9/11 attack and USS Cole bombing was discussed at the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur al-Qaeda Summit. Among the planners were Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who later died on 9/11 hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. After the summit they traveled to San Diego, where witnesses told the FBI they had a close relationship with al-Awlaki in 2000. Al-Awlaki served as their spiritual adviser, and the two were also frequently visited there by 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour. The 9/11 Commission Report indicated that the hijackers "reportedly respected [al-Awlaki] as a religious figure". Authorities say the two hijackers regularly attended the mosque al-Awlaki led in San Diego, and had many long closed-door meetings with him, which led investigators to believe al-Awlaki knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
Al-Awlaki told reporters that he resigned from leading the San Diego mosque "after an uneventful four years", despite his contacts with 9/11 participants. He took a brief sabbatical and a trip overseas to various countries, which have not been identified or explained.
When al-Awlaki returned to the U.S., he settled in January 2001 on the East Coast. There, he served as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the Falls Church metropolitan Washington, DC, area, and was also the Muslim Chaplain at George Washington University. Esam Omeish hired al-Awlaki to be the mosque's imam. Omeish said in 2004 that he was convinced that al-Awlaki: "has no inclination or active involvement in any events or circumstances that have to do with terrorism". Fluent in English, known for giving eloquent talks on Islam, and with a mandate to attract young non-Arabic speakers, al-Awlaki "was the magic bullet", according to mosque spokesman Johari Abdul-Malik; "he had everything all in a box." "He had an allure. He was charming."
Soon afterward, his sermons were attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers (Al-Hazmi again, and Hani Hanjour, which the 9/11 Commission Report concluded "may not have been coincidental"). Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan would also visit as Awlaki also presided over the funeral of Nidal Hassan's mother.Cite error: Closing missing for tag; see the help page
The FBI interviewed al-Awlaki four times in the eight days following the 9/11 attacks.  One detective told the 9/11 Commission he believed al-Awlaki "was at the center of the 9/11 story". And an FBI agent said that "if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been" him, since "someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused". One 9/11 Commission staff member said: "Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something? Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it." A separate Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks suspected that al-Awlaki might have been part of a support network for the hijackers, according to its director, Eleanor Hill. "In my view, he is more than a coincidental figure", said House Intelligence Committee member Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA).
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Awlaki was sought as a media source for questions about Islam and the attacks who could speak English well. He was interviewed by National Geographic, The New York Times and other media. He condemned the attacks, stating "There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion." He also pointed to U.S. foreign policy and that others might "say that Muslim land is now invaded by the U.S., there are U.S. soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf. And then, the state of Israel is an occupying force which is supported by the U.S." He presented an image as a moderate who could "bridge the gap between the United States and the worldwide community of Muslims"
Writing on the IslamOnline.net website six days after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki suggested that Israeli intelligence agents might have been responsible for the attacks, and that the FBI "went into the roster of the airplanes, and whoever has a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default".
Months after the 9/11 attacks, as the U.S. Secretary of the Army was eager to have a presentation from a moderate Muslim as part of an outreach effort to ease tensions with Muslim-Americans, a Pentagon employee invited al-Awlaki to a luncheon in the Secretary's Office of General Counsel.
Al-Awlaki was the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association's first imam to conduct a prayer service at the U.S. Capitol in 2002. The prayers were for Muslim congressional staffers and officials for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The FBI conducted extensive investigations of al-Awlaki, and he was observed crossing state lines with prostitutes in the D.C. area. To arrest him, the FBI considered invoking the little-used Mann Act, a federal law prohibiting interstate transport of women for "immoral purposes". But before investigators could detain him, al-Awlaki left for Yemen in March 2002.
Weeks later, he posted an essay in Arabic titled "Why Muslims Love Death" on the Islam Today website, praising the Palestinian suicide bombers' fervor. Months later, at a videotaped lecture in a London mosque, he lauded them in English. By July 2002, he was under investigation for having been sent money by the subject of an U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation. His name was placed on an early version of what is now the federal terror watch list.
In June 2002, a Denver federal judge signed off on an arrest warrant for al-Awlaki for passport fraud. On October 9, the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss its complaint, and vacate the arrest warrant. It did so because prosecutors felt ultimately that they lacked evidence of a crime, according to U.S. Attorney Dave Gaouette, who authorized its withdrawal. While al-Awlaki had falsely listed Yemen as his place of birth on his 1990 application for a U.S. social security number, which he then used to obtain a passport in 1993, he later changed his place of birth information to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Prosecutors could not charge him, because a 10-year statute of limitations on lying to the Social Security Administration had expired. The motion was approved by a magistrate judge on October 10, and filed on October 11. As a result, agents were unable to arrest him when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the U.S. on October 10, 2002, the day the judge signed the order rescinding his warrant.
ABC News reported that the decision to cancel the arrest warrant outraged members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego who were monitoring al-Awlaki, and wanted to "look at him under a microscope". But Gaouette said there had not been any objection to the warrant being rescinded during a meeting attended by Ray Fournier, the San Diego federal diplomatic security agent whose allegation had set in motion the effort to obtain a warrant. Gaouette opined that if al-Awlaki had been convicted, he would have faced about 6 months in custody. "The bizarre thing is if you put Yemen down (on the application), it would be harder to get a Social Security number than to say you are a native-born citizen of Las Cruces," Gaouette said. The New York Times noted, however, that al-Awlaki apparently did it so he could qualify for scholarship money given to foreign citizens. U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) wrote in May 2010 that it was his understanding that by doing so al-Awlaki fraudulently obtained more than $20,000 in scholarship funds reserved for foreign students, for which he was not eligible.
Al-Awlaki's return to the U.S. may have been connected to his return to Northern Virginia, where he visited radical Islamic cleric Ali al-Timimi, and asked about recruiting young Muslims for "violent jihad". Al-Timimi is now serving a life sentence for leading the Virginia Jihad Network, inciting Muslim followers to fight with the Taliban against the U.S.
In the United Kingdom; 2002–04
Al-Awlaki left the U.S. before the end of 2002, because of a "climate of fear and intimidation" according to Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque.
Moving to the UK for several months, he gave talks to up to 200 youths at a time. He urged young Muslim followers: "The important lesson to learn here is never, ever trust a kuffar [non-Muslim]. Do not trust them! [They] are plotting to kill this religion. They're plotting night and day." "He was the main man who translated the jihad into English," said a student who attended his lectures in 2003.
He gave a series of lectures in December 2002 and January 2003 at the London Masjid al-Tawhid mosque, describing the rewards martyrs receive in paradise, and developing a following among ultraconservative young Muslims. He was a "distinguished guest" speaker at the U.K.'s Federation of Student Islamic Societies' (FOSIS) annual dinner in 2003. He began a grand lecture tour of Britain, from London to Aberdeen, as part of a campaign by the Muslim Association of Britain. He also lectured for the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE), based at the East London Mosque, and appeared at an event at the East London Mosque in which he told his audience: "A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim... he does not betray him, and he does not hand him over... You don't hand over a Muslim to the enemies."
In Britain's Parliament in 2003, Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, discussed the relationship between al-Awlaki and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a Muslim Brotherhood front organization founded by Kemal el-Helbawy, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In Yemen; 2004–11
Al-Awlaki returned to Yemen in early 2004, and lived in his ancestral village in the southern province of Shabwa with his wife and five children. He lectured at Iman University, headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, who is on the UN 1267 Committee's list of individuals belonging to or associated with Al-Qaida. Some believe that the school's curriculum deals mostly, if not exclusively, with radical Islamic studies, and that it is an incubator of radicalism, and point to the fact that John Walker Lindh and others accused of terrorism are alumni. Al-Zindani denied having any influence over al-Awlaki, or that he had been his "direct teacher".
On August 31, 2006, al-Awlaki was one of a group of five people arrested on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and involvement in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. military attaché. Al-Awlaki blamed the U.S. for pressuring Yemeni authorities to arrest him. He was interviewed around September 2007 by two FBI agents with regard to the 9/11 attacks and other subjects, and John Negroponte, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told Yemeni officials he did not object to al-Awlaki's detention. His name was on a list of 100 prisoners whose release was sought by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen. After 18 months in a Yemeni prison, he was released on December 12, 2007, following the intercession of his tribe, an indication by the U.S. that it did not insist on his incarceration, and—according to a Yemeni security official—because he said he repented. He reportedly moved to his family home in Saeed, a tiny hamlet in the rugged Shabwa mountains.
Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg's Cageprisoners organization campaigned for al-Awlaki when he was in prison in Yemen. Shortly after his release, Begg obtained an exclusive telephone interview with him. According to Begg, prior to his incarceration in Yemen al-Awlaki had condemned the 9/11 attacks.
In December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab, congratulating them. He thanked them for "giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not". In conclusion, he wrote: "if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks".
"He's the most dangerous man in Yemen. He's intelligent, sophisticated, Internet-savvy, and very charismatic. He can sell anything to anyone, and right now he's selling jihad".
— Yemeni official familiar with counterterrorism operations
He provided al-Qaeda members in Yemen with the protection against the government of his powerful tribe, the Awlakis. The tribal code required it to protect those who seek refuge and assistance. This is an even greater imperative where the person is a member of the tribe, or a tribesman's friend. The tribe's motto is "We are the sparks of Hell; whomever interferes with us will be burned." Al-Awlaki has also reportedly helped negotiate deals with leaders of other tribes.
Sought by Yemeni authorities with regard to an investigation into his al-Qaeda ties, al-Awlaki avoided detection by the authorities. According to his father, al-Awlaki disappeared in approximately March 2009. By December 2009, al-Awlaki was on the Yemen government's most-wanted list. He was believed to be hiding in Yemen's rugged Shabwa or Mareb regions, which are part of the so-called "triangle of evil" (known as such because it attracts al-Qaeda militants seeking refuge among local tribes that are unhappy with Yemen's central government).
Yemeni sources originally said al-Awlaki might have been killed in a pre-dawn air strike by Yemeni Air Force fighter jets on a meeting of senior al-Qaeda leaders at a hideout in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa, on December 24, 2009. But he survived. Pravda reported that the planes, using Saudi Arabian and U.S. intelligence aid, killed at least 30 al-Qaeda members from Yemen and abroad, and that an al-Awlaki house was "raided and demolished". On December 28 The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Yemeni officials said that al-Awlaki had attended the al-Qaeda meeting. Abdul Elah al-Shaya, a Yemeni journalist, said the former imam called him on December 28, and said that he was well, and had not attended the al-Qaeda meeting. Al-Shaya insisted that al-Awlaki was not tied to al-Qaeda, and declined to comment as to whether al-Awlaki had told him about any contacts he may have had with Abdulmutallab.
In March 2010, a tape featuring al-Awlaki was released in which he urged Muslims residing in the U.S. to attack their country of residence. In the video, he stated:
To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters? I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad (holy struggle) against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding upon every other able Muslim.
In July 2010, a Seattle cartoonist was warned by the FBI of a death threat issued by al-Awlaki in the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire. Eight other cartoonists, journalists, and writers from Britain, Sweden, and Holland were also threatened with death. "The prophet is the pinnacle of Jihad", al-Awlaki wrote. "It is better to support the prophet by attacking those who slander him than it is to travel to land of Jihad like Iraq or Afghanistan."
Reaching out to the United Kingdom
Despite being banned from entering the United Kingdom in 2006, al-Awlaki spoke on at least seven occasions at five different venues around Britain via video-link in 2007–09. The East London Mosque provoked the outrage of The Daily Telegraph by allowing Noor Pro Media Events to hold a conference on New Year's Day 2009, showing a videotaped lecture by al-Awlaki; former Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve expressed concern over al-Awlaki's involvement.
He also gave video-link talks in England to an Islamic student society at the University of Westminster in September 2008, an arts center in East London in April 2009 (after the Tower Hamlets council gave its approval), worshipers at the Al Huda Mosque in Bradford, and a dinner of the Cageprisoners organization in September 2008 at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in South London (at which he said: "We should make jihad for our brothers"). On August 23, 2009, al-Awlaki was banned by local authorities in Kensington and Chelsea, London, from speaking at Kensington Town Hall via videolink to a fundraiser dinner for Guantanamo detainees promoted by Cageprisoners. His videos, which discuss his Islamist theories, have also been circulated across the United Kingdom, and until February 2010 hundreds of audio tapes of his sermons were available at the Tower Hamlets public libraries. In 2010 it was reported that the London-based Islam Channel had in 2009 carried advertisements for DVDs of al-Awlaki's sermons and for at least two events at which he was due to be the star speaker via video link.