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Air strike death of US-born cleric ‘big blow for al-Qaida’

By Catrina Stewart and Rupert Cornwell

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemeni cleric identified by the United States as a significant threat to its homeland security, was killed yesterday in a targeted air strike in Yemen.

The death of the radical Islamist cleric has potentially dealt a “significant blow” to al-Qaida, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

The killing was hailed by President Barack Obama and other US officials as another crippling blow for al-Qaida, eliminating a key figure in the group's most active and dangerous affiliate.

At a ceremony for the departure of Admiral Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr Obama declared his death as “the latest milestone in our broader efforts to defeat al-Qaida”.

It had removed a man “whose hateful ideology was rejected by the vast majority of Muslims of every faith”, and was “further proof that the group and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world”.

Awlaki was an inspirational figure in al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), spreading his extremist ideology to disaffected Muslims all over the world, but particularly in the West where his fluency in English gained him many followers.

His skill was in giving lone attackers the confidence to strike, and he had been linked to several attacks on American soil, including the shooting of soldiers at a military base in Fort Hood by an army psychiatrist, and a failed attempt by the ‘underpants’ bomber to down a US airliner above Detroit nearly two years ago.

A US citizen, Awlaki was killed early yesterday morning by an American drone strike on his convoy some 90 miles from the capital Sanaa in the Marib province that has provided a haven for al-Qaida militants. The cleric had been under observation for three weeks, US officials said.

Also killed in the strike was Sameer Khan, a Pakistani-American who produced Inspire, the online publication that has been a source of inspiration for amateur plotters, urging its followers to attack US targets.

Awlaki had long been in Washington's sights. Last year Mr Obama added him to the CIA's ‘kill or capture’ list, the first time that the White House had sanctioned the extrajudicial killing of a US citizen.

The US has identified AQAP with “Awlaki as a leader within the organisation as probably the most significant threat to the US homeland”.

In Yemen, meanwhile, Awlaki's removal is likely to have little impact, for he is barely known.

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