|FILE - This Oct. 2008 file photo provided by Muhammad ud-Deen, shows radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Yemen says it will not hunt down al-Awlaki who has reportedly been added to the CIA's list of targets to be killed or captured. (AP Photo/Muhammad ud-Deen, File)|
Yemen not going after radical US-born cleric
SAN'A, Yemen—Yemeni forces are not going after a radical U.S.-born cleric who has reportedly been added to the CIA's list of targets to be killed or captured, the foreign minister said Saturday.
The United States has not handed over evidence to support allegations that Anwar al-Awlaki is recruiting for al-Qaida's offshoot in the impoverished country on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the minister said.
The Obama administration has authorized his killing because it believes he has shifted from encouraging attacks on the U.S. to participating in them, The New York Times reported earlier this week.
Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said Saturday that al-Awlaki is not a terrorist and is not on Yemen's own wanted list. Yemeni security officials believe he is hiding in an area of the mountainous country that has become a refuge for Islamic militants.
"Anwar al-Awlaki has to us been always looked at as a preacher rather than a terrorist and shouldn't be looked at as a terrorist unless the Americans have evidence that he has been involved in terrorism," al-Qirbi said.
Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, came to the attention of U.S. officials after being linked to 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 U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Texas.
He has used his personal Web site to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
Yemen has appeared to target al-Awlaki in the recent past.
On Dec. 24, Yemeni warplanes, using U.S. intelligence help, struck a meeting of senior al-Qaida figures that al-Awlaki was also believed to be attending. Thirty militants were killed, according to the government, but the cleric and the al-Qaida offshoot's top leaders are thought to have left the meeting hours before the strike.
In January, two prominent sheiks from the cleric's powerful Awalik tribe told The Associated Press that the Yemeni government was negotiating with tribal leaders to try to persuade them to hand al-Awlaki over to authorities.
The foreign minister said Saturday that Yemeni authorities had no contacts with al-Awlaki.
Under U.S. pressure and with the help of American aid, training and intelligence, Yemen's government has battled the al-Qaida militants who have established a base of operations in the country in the past year.
But the weak government's control barely extends beyond the capital, and the militants have found shelter among powerful and sympathetic tribes who are hostile to the government.
The cleric's family and many members of his powerful Awalik tribe deny the 38-year-old is a member of al-Qaida, depicting him as a victim of Yemeni and U.S. persecution.