WASHINGTON—The Obama administration has authorized the killing of a radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen believed to be hiding in Yemen and thought to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the U.S. to participating in them, according to published reports.
Al-Awlaki has emerged as a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, along with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, as well as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Texas.
American counterterrorism officials say they believe al-Awlaki has become a recruiter for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the U.S. and at Americans abroad, the officials told The New York Times in a report posted online late Tuesday.
It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials told the newspaper. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.
Al-Awlaki, 38, recently was added to the CIA target list after a special government review of his activities, prompted by his status as a U.S. citizen, U.S. officials told the Los Angeles Times. He is to be captured or killed, the newspaper said.
Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, has used his personal Web site to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Yemeni security officials say they believe he is hiding in a region of the mountainous nation that has become a refuge for Islamic militants.