A CIA drone strike in Yemen on Friday killed senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader, US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The strike marks the US government's most successful attack against al Qaeda since the raid leading to the death of Osama bin Laden [JURIST report] in Pakistan last May. The US-born radical Muslim cleric reportedly used his English and Internet skills to recruit individuals [AP report] for attacks in the US. To help garner support for al Qaeda, Awlaki allegedly preached to people inside American mosques, and some of his talks were attended by the hijackers [Reuters report] involved in the 9/11 attacks against the US. Forty-year-old Awlaki reportedly assumed a direct operational role in al Qaeda organizing attacks with other members in Yemen. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized the targeted killing as a violation of both US and international law [press release]. The US has increased drone strikes in Yemen to try and reduce al Qaeda's power in the region and minimize the chaos spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia. The US targeted Awlaki in a strike last May but missed.
Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen, had been approved for targeting killing by the Obama administration, an action that was challenged based on Awlaki's US citizenship. In December, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] challenging the Obama administration's ability to conduct "targeted killings" in al-Awlaki's case. Judge John Bates found that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case, filed by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Awlaki's father, dismissing it on procedural grounds and noting that important questions remain. Bates heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case in November on the same day Awlaki called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites. Earlier in November, Yemeni prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Awlaki with incitement to kill foreigners, and he was later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison.