Why Yemen claims role in US drone strike on cleric Anwar al-Awlaki
President Saleh's government, besieged by protests and clinging to power, is hoping to prove its usefulness as the US pursues radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and other terror suspects in Yemen.
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The Saleh government is emphasizing that risk. A local Yemeni security official told AFP that Al Qaeda fighters in south Yemen on Saturday raided a farm owned by the president. One jihadist was killed and two wounded in the ensuing firefight, the official said. He said armed men had also launched a mortar attack on a riot police post, an army camp, and a telecommunications building in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan Province, but caused no casualties.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the US would be taking a risk, too, to stick with Saleh in the face of the popular uprising, in which some 150 people have died since January. The Monitor’s Erik Stier reported this week that “with Saleh's regime's pushed to the brink of collapse, Yemen is in a poor position to rein in extremist activity – including the sort of retaliatory attacks against which the US is seeking to guard its citizens.”
Whatever the long-term political outcome of Saleh’s newly robust cooperation with US forces in seeking out AQAP, the US acted quickly after obtaining information about Awlaki's whereabouts. According to The Wall Street Journal account, on Thursday “the U.S. launched two separate attacks within 45 minutes aimed at Mr. Awlaki in the southern province of Shebwa.”
The three rockets in the first strike missed the pickup truck in which Awlaki and a Saudi were traveling, the report said. Two Yemeni brothers known to harbor militants rushed to the scene, and Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the brothers in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the brothers, and Awlaki and the Saudi escaped in the other vehicle, according to the report.
The US is not known to have attacked AQAP inside Yemen since last May.
Awlaki, born in New Mexico, is believed to have been living in Yemen since 2004. Though he is an American citizen, the Obama administration has taken the unusual step of adding him to the CIA target list, saying he is tied to several terrorist attempts, including the Fort Hood mass shooting in Texas in November 2009, the Christmas Day airline bomb plot in 2009, and the Times Square car bomb plot in May 2010. He is said to be a senior, but not a top, AQAP leader. American operatives see him as an inspirational figure who recruits English-speaking militants to attack US interests at home and abroad. He disseminates his sermons and anti-American views widely on the Internet, where he has a large following.