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Obama hails death cleric Awlaki

US President Barack Obama has declared the killing of a fiery American-born cleric a "major blow" to al Qaida's most active affiliate and vowed a vigorous US campaign to prevent the terror network and its partners from finding a haven anywhere in the world.

Anwar al-Awlaki and a second American, Samir Khan, were killed by a joint CIA-US military air strike on their convoy in Yemen early today.

Both men played major roles in inspiring attacks against the United States, and their killings are a devastating double blow to al Qaida's most dangerous franchise.

Seeking to justify the targeted killing of a US citizen, Mr Obama outlined al-Awlaki's involvement in planning and directing the murder of innocent Americans.

"He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up US cargo planes in 2010," Mr Obama said. "And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda."

After three weeks of tracking the targets, US armed drones and fighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki's convoy before armed drones launched their lethal strike early on Friday. The strike killed four operatives in all, officials said.

Mr Obama praised Yemen's government and security forces for their close co-operation with the US in fighting al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) arguably the terror network's most dangerous affiliate. With al-Awlaki's death, Mr Obama said AQAP remains "a dangerous but weakened terrorist organisation".

Al-Awlaki was a US citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, who had not been charged with any crime. Civil liberties groups have questioned the government's authority to kill an American without trial.

US officials have said they believe al-Awlaki inspired the actions of army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas.

In New York, the Pakistani-American man who pleaded guilty to the May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt said he was "inspired" by al-Awlaki after making contact over the internet.

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