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Awlaki’s Death a Delayed Counterterrorism Success

1:25 PM, Sep 30, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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That assessment turned out to be a devastating mistake. Months after Hasan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Awlaki described Hasan as one of his “students.” Hasan had asked Awlaki about the permissibility of killing his fellow soldiers.

Another of his “students,” Awlaki explained, was Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an underwear bomb on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009. Several intelligence failures allowed Abdulmutallab to board that flight.

As Awlaki’s recruits were waging jihad against the West, some commentators assumed that he was not operational – that he was merely a radical preacher. The legality of a U.S.-led counterstrike on Awlaki was even questioned in American courts by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Ironically, in the months leading up to the filing of that lawsuit, Awlaki was providing operational direction to a recruit in Britain who was planning an attack on airliners.

Undoubtedly, some recruits will be drawn to Awlaki’s violent message even after his death, as his online sermons will live on. But intelligence and counterterrorism officials finally caught up with the al Qaeda cleric – after a decade or more of failing to connect the dots.       

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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