The killing of an American citizen wanted for global terrorism marked another significant milestone in the defeat of al-Qaida and its affiliates, President Barack Obama said Friday.
Speaking at the retirement ceremony for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, the president said Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born radical cleric, took the lead in 'planning efforts to murder innocent Americans" as head of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Awlaki was killed in a U.S. air strike in Yemen on Friday. U.S. officials say Awlaki was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region. A key leader of AQAP, Awlaki also held Yemeni citizenship. He grew up in New Mexico, and Virginia, but had been living in Yemen for years, where he was considered the most influential English-speaking cleric preaching global jihad today.
He was killed by a U.S. drone and jet strike in a joint operation of the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, the Associated Press reported. Alongside him was another American citizen, editor of an al-Qaida magazine, who was also killed in the strike.
Obama warned that al-Qaida and its affiliates have been weakened by the recent killings of other top leaders including Osama bin Laden in May this year, but it remained a dangerous organization.
"Going forward we will remain vigilant to any threats," Obama said.
The U.S. claims Awlaki was linked to attempted terrorist attacks, including assisting would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his attempt to down an airliner en route to Detroit in 2009, and sending parcel bombs to the United States in 2010. A senior defense official said Awlaki worked directly with the planners and perpetrators in both cases. Awlaki was also said to have inspired Maj. Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas.