Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric linked to al-Qaeda, was killed Friday in a U.S. drone strike in northern Yemen, five miles from the town of Khashef in Yemen’s northern Jawf province.
A Hellfire missile fired by the CIA at Awlaki’s vehicle was reported to have killed him, dealing the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since the killing of its founder Osama bin Laden in May.
Speaking at a ceremony honoring Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama called the 40-year-old Aulaqi’s death “a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate."
Obama described Aulaqi as “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans."
The Obama administration said that al-Awlaki organized the dispatch of parcel bombs concealed in cargo aircraft bound from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010. They also claim that Awlaki’s online sermons radicalized a woman who attempted to murder Stephen Timms, a former British cabinet minister, in a knife attack in May 2010. And, this year, Awlaki emerged as the inspiration for a former British Airways employee to plot to blow up an aircraft.
The strike also killed a second U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, the co-editor of an al-Qaeda magazine, and two other unidentified al-Qaeda operatives. Tribal leaders in the area said at least seven people were killed. They identified one of the others as an al-Qaeda militant named Salem bin Arfaaj.
However, some legal experts argue that the U.S. attack is contrary to provisions in international law that ban countries from assassinating their enemies.
“Under international law, the killing of Awlaki through military force is clearly unlawful,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor the University of Notre Dame in the US. “The United States is not at war in Yemen. This was the killing of a criminal suspect with no attempt to arrest.”
Salon.com blogger and Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald appeared on 'Democracy Now!' Friday morning to voice his displeasure, claiming what Obama ordered was worse than President George W. Bush's civil rights violations (video below).
“Remember that there was great controversial when George Bush asserted the power to simply detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversation without warrant,” he said. “Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process. And yet many Democrats and progressives because President Obama is doing it have no problem with it and are even in favor of it.”