In an audio recording released last Wednesday, Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born radical Islamist cleric residing in Yemen, called directly for jihad against the United States. (For more about Awlaki, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.) In short, Awlaki has been linked to a number of recent terror attacks, including the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day attack.
Last Wednesday’s call for jihad from Awlaki is not new, nor is his assertion that the pursuit of such jihad is incumbent on all Muslims. In January 2009, Awlaki released an article entitled, “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” wherein he detailed the different means by which Muslims can fulfill their duty to carry on violent jihad. Experts have described his “Constants on the Path of Jihad” as a virtual bible that lays out al Qaeda’s terror strategy. The release of this new audio message and the message’s call for American Muslims to turn against the U.S. government shows Awlaki has not shied away from his inspirational role, despite being forced into hiding in Yemen’s eastern Shabwah province.
Awlaki’s latest message needs to be taken seriously, as the failure of authorities to apprehend Awlaki over the years has allowed him to preach to increasing numbers of potential and future terrorists. (In October 2002, as part of an ongoing investigation into his ties to 9/11 hijackers, the FBI detained Awlaki at New York City’s JFK Airport, but quickly, albeit reluctantly, released him because the warrant for his arrest had been revoked the day before by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.)
Awlaki’s influence among would-be terrorists in America continues to be strong: Sharif Mobley, a New Jersey man arrested on March 4, 2010 in Yemen for suspected terrorist ties, made contact with Awlaki and went to Yemen believing that the cleric could serve as an al Qaeda mentor.
This latest message and Awlaki’s numerous ties to terror plots show the continued persistence with which America’s terrorist enemies seek to strike her. Awlaki’s methods show how al Qaeda and its affiliates and promoters have adapted to new technologies and new targets, such as the Muslim community within the U.S.
Furthermore, Awlaki’s continued activity reinforces the importance of developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with Yemen, whose environment is conducive to Awlaki’s presence, as our colleagues Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have argued.
Please find the full Critical Threats biography of Awlaki here, including details on his background, ideology, and ties to terror plots.