Yemen: Bin Laden's heir killed by US drone strike
03 October 2011
by Anthony Tucker-JonesAmerica's latest success in the 'War on Terror' invites suggestions the al-Qaida leadership could be strategically defeated in the next 18 to 24 months
Last Friday, America killed the man who was the inspiration behind many of the acts and attempted acts of terrorism against the West by al-Qaida in recent years.
On the morning of 30 September, after two weeks of close surveillance, Operation Troy came to fruition with the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. The drone wars had claimed their latest victim.
This is certainly not the first time that US drones have targeted al-Qaida leaders in Yemen. On 3 November 2002, Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, also known as Abu Ali, who was responsible for the USS Cole bombing was killed in the same way. This was the first time an armed drone had been used outside a war zone. Ahmed Hijazi, a US citizen, was also killed in the attack.
Anwar al-Awlaki's white Toyota Hi-lux pick-up truck was just departing from a meeting with a tribal leader in northern Yemen when an American Predator drone delivered its deadly payload. Two hellfire anti-tank missiles were launched and the second hit the vehicle, ending the life of the man dubbed the 'Bin Laden of the internet.' The attack reportedly took place near Khasaf, in Jawf province, 87 miles east of the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
Also killed were Samir Khan and three other senior associates. Khan was the editor of Inspire, the highly effective internet site founded by al-Awlaki to recruit Islamic militants.
Al-Awlaki was a US citizen who had also lived in Britain before moving to Yemen. Until last week he was a key figure with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which had operated from Yemen after being driven from Saudi Arabia.
Following the death of Osama bin Laden at the beginning of May this year, there were only two real possible successors to the leadership of al-Qaida. While Egyptian Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, long considered Bin Laden's deputy, stepped into the role, al-Awlaki was a very viable rival for the job.
Although al-Zawahiri served with Bin Laden and was leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Awlaki in fact has wielded far greater influence. His greatest skill was as an ideologue, propagandist and talent scout who fully appreciated the power of the internet as a recruiting tool for disaffected Muslims.
He was an Imam at the mosques frequented by the 9/11 hijackers in America.
He also influenced the British 7/7 bombers in 2005, the failed 'underwear bomber', the Fort Hood attack in 2009, the attempted East Midland ink cartridge bombs in 2010 and the stabbing of British Member of Parliament Stephen Timms. His reach was wide and insidious.
US President Barack Obama had signed the assassination order of al-Awlaki in January 2010. That year, Yemeni commandos almost cornered him in a village in southern Yemen, but he slipped the noose. Then in May 2011 a US drone narrowly missed him when it attacked a convoy that he was travelling in. Inspire claimed that on that occasion US drones fired almost a dozen missiles.
While the beleaguered President Saleh of Yemen may attempt to take the credit for Operation Troy in order to bolster his regime's standing with Washington, it was in fact a Saudi tip off that alerted US intelligence to al-Awlaki's whereabouts.
In the past year eight of al-Qaida's 20 most senior figures have been killed. Washington is now discussing the possibility of strategically defeating all of al-Qaida in the next 18 to 24 months.
Certainly the death of al-Awlaki should make Britain and America safer places.