Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released a martyrdom statement for Anwar al Awlaki, the al Qaeda cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month. AQAP claims – like many critics of the strike – that slaying Awlaki violated American law because the U.S. government “did not prove any crime” and “never presented any proof against” Awlaki and Samir Khan, who was also killed in the strike. The argument goes that, as Americans, Awlaki and Khan were deprived of their right to due process.
Of course, the irony here is that AQAP has confirmed Awlaki’s and Khan’s roles in the organization by issuing a martyrdom statement. Al Qaeda’s Arabian affiliate does not issue martyrdom statements for just anyone. Indeed, the group calls Awlaki a “mujahid heroic sheikh” and promises “revenge” for his killing.
There is an additional layer of irony here. Awlaki repeatedly sneered at the West’s laws, arguing that Muslims should not abide by them. In an issue of AQAP’s English webzine Inspire released last year, and edited by Khan, Awlaki made his contempt for Western laws clear. Answering a declaration by moderate Muslim scholars who called for tolerance, Awlaki scoffed at the notion that Muslims can live peacefully in West. Here is what Awlaki wrote (emphasis added):
At a time when American expenditure on its army is anything but decreasing, these scholars are asking us to give up any form of resistance and live as law – Western law that is – abiding citizens. They are asking us to live as sheep, as pleasantly as a flock of tame, peaceful, and obedient sheep. One billion and a quarter Muslims with no say on the world stage, stripped from their right to live as Muslims under the law of Islam, directly and indirectly occupied by the West, are asked to live as sheep. Is that the role of scholars?
Awlaki also argued that jihadists have the right to spread their radical version of sharia, supplanting Western laws and using violence if necessary. Awlaki offered this example to support his point of view (emphasis added):
The first Caliph Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) fought against the apostates and against the two superpowers of his time, the Roman and Persian Empires. The war against the apostates was to reestablish the acceptance and submission of the tribes of Arabia to the law of Allah. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) said if they refuse to give even a bridle they used to give to the Messenger of Allah, he will fight them over it.
Awlaki had zero respect for America’s laws. In fact, it is quite possible that Awlaki flouted America’s counterterrorism laws beginning all the way back in 1999. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has no use for Western laws, except in its propaganda, either.
Finally, Awlaki explained that his version of the law is crystal clear when it comes to confronting America. In a separate statement last year, Awlaki told would-be recruits: “Don’t consult with anyone in fighting the Americans; fighting the devil doesn’t require consultation or prayers or seeking divine guidance.”
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.