The Muslim cleric whom alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan contacted prior to the shooting was not killed in a Yemeni air strike Thursday, the cleric's friends and relatives say.
Officials with the government of Yemen initially said Anwar al-Awlaki may have been among the dead in an air strike that "claimed at least 30 militants," the Associated Press reports.
(See Raw Story's report on the significance of the number "30" in reports of militant casualties...)
The AP reports:
On Friday, a friend of the cleric, Abu Bakr al-Awlaki, told The Associated Press he was not among those killed.
The Yemeni government said it struck a gathering of senior al Qaeda figures in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa province, where they were plotting new terror attacks.
In Washington, a US government official who was briefed on the strike told The Associated Press that there has been no confirmation yet of who was killed in the strike.
Update: 'If Obama wants to kill my son, this is wrong,' Iman's father says
Multiple reports claim that the controversial Muslim cleric who was contacted by the Fort Hood shooter before his killing spree has been killed in an anti-terror air strike. Some suggest that the strike was targeted.
"A radical Muslim preacher linked by U.S. intelligence to a gunman who killed 13 people at a U.S. Army base is believed to have died in a Yemen airstrike on al Qaeda militants, a security official said on Thursday," Reuters reports.
"Anwar al Awlaki is suspected to be dead (in the air raid)," said the Yemeni official, who the wire service notes "asked not to be identified."
Although this is an unconfirmed report, some are already cheering.
"If one was inclined to see the well-deserved death of Anwar al-Awlaki in the Yemen strike as a gift from Santa Claus, perhaps we can consider Saeed Ali al-Shehri as a stocking stuffer," Hot Air's Ed Morrissey writes. "Jake Tapper reports that Shihri, a former Gitmo detainee released by the Bush administration who returned to help lead al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed in the same strike that killed Awlaki and a total of 30 attendees of an AQ leadership meeting."
But, as the New York Times notes, "It could take days for investigators to sift through the rubble to identify the dead, and intelligence officials in the United States could not immediately confirm whether Mr. Awlaki or any Qaeda members were among those killed."
From Tapper's ABC News report:
Sources tell ABC News that an air raid in Yemen this morning may have killed two top al Qaeda officials as well as an imam believed to have inspired the alleged Fort Hood shooter.
Those believed to have been present at the target in the eastern province Shabwa included the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahayshi, his No. 2, Saeed al-Shehri, and Anwar al-Awlaki, who was quoted telling Al Jazeera Web that Maj. Nidal Hasan, asked him "about killing U.S. soldiers and officers. His question was is it legitimate" under Islamic law.
Awlaki said the query was a year before the Fort Hood shooting, making him "astonished. Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?"
The sources would not get into whether the air raid was conducted by US or Yemeni forces.
Reports suggest US-aided strike targeted cleric
According to the Times report noted earlier, Yemeni fighter jets were "acting on intelligence provided in part by the United States."
At PBS Frontline, Talea Miller writes, "Yemeni forces backed by U.S. intelligence attacked alleged al-Qaida hide-outs in eastern Yemen early Thursday, killing more than 30 militants, Yemeni security officials have told news organizations. Reports are surfacing that a Muslim cleric linked to the accused Fort Hood gunman, may have been among those targeted in the strike."
According to a press statement issued Thursday by the Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C.: "Preliminary reports suggest that the strike targeted scores of Yemeni and foreign Al-Qaida operatives. Nasser Al-Wuhayshi, the regional Al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Saeed Al-Shihri, alongside Anwar Al-Awlaki were presumed to be at the site."
At the Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan and Greg Jaffe report,
A Yemeni government official and local news reports said that Aulaqi's house was also targeted, although it's unclear whether it was from an airstrike or a subsequent raid.
The United States provided intelligence and other support in the strike, a U.S. official said. It wasn't clear whether U.S. firepower was employed in the attack. A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment on the attack beyond praising Yemen for its strong stand against terrorism.
The Yemen Observer, a local paper with ties to the government, reported that Aulaqi's house was "raided and demolished."
According to the Post, the cleric's father, former Yemeni minister of agriculture Nasser al-Aulaqi, said, "If the American government helped in attacking one of [its own] citizens, this is illegal."
The cleric's father added, "Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and he's going to get a trial. My son has killed nobody. He should face trial if he's done something wrong."
"If Obama wants to kill my son, this is wrong," he said.
A counterterror airstrike in Yemen that may have targeted Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist cleric linked to Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, could raise new questions about whether Hasan’s rampage in Killeen, Texas, on Nov. 5 was the act of a lone wolf or part of a conspiracy.
The strike Thursday morning reportedly killed two Al Qaeda leaders, and possibly Mr. al-Awlaki, and was conducted with the help of the US. The Pentagon is spending about $70 million this year to help Yemen fight Al Qaeda in a new front against terrorism.
On Wednesday, Al Jazeera published a new interview where al-Awlaki expressed surprise that the US military had not unearthed Hasan’s plan but stopped short of taking responsibility for the plot.
“My support to the operation was because the operation that brother Nidal carried out was a courageous one, and I endeavored to explain my position regarding what happened because many Islamic organizations and preachers in the West condemned the operation,” al-Awlaki said.
At the New American, Joe Wolverton writes,
In a dramatic display of bravado that in light of the military targeting of his home may seem the haughty spirit that came before the fall, Awlaki bragged to al-Jazeera that the only reason the American government has not released the content of his electronic correspondence with Hasan is that it will confirm their ineptitude and the inability of the intelligence agencies that were monitoring Hasan’s communication to perceive his radical bent, predict the violent potential therein, and prevent the murder of twelve soldiers and one civilian last month. “Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?" asked Awlaki with a mocking air.
The White House declined to comment on reports that US-Yemeni imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had ties to the alleged Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 people at a Texas military base last month, was among the dead.
"I'm not going to comment on those specific reports," said deputy spokesman Bill Burton.
"As we've said previously, the president supports the government of Yemen in their efforts to take out terrorist elements in their country. We continue to support those efforts."
Thursday's strike brings the Yemeni government's tally of Al-Qaeda suspects killed in the past eight days to 68.
AFP's report follows:
Yemeni forces killed 34 suspected Al-Qaeda members, including senior leaders, in a dawn raid Thursday in a remote mountainous region of Yemen's Shabwa province, a security source said.
"The raid was carried out as dozens of members of Al-Qaeda were meeting in Wadi Rafadh," said the source, referring to a rugged location about 650 kilometres (400 miles) east of the Yemeni capital.
The head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahishi and his deputy, Saeed al-Saudi Shahrani, were present at the meeting, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He added that "members of the group's leadership, including Saad al-Fathani and Mohammad Ahmed Saleh al-Omir, were among those killed."
The source was unable to say what had happened to Wahishi or his deputy, but he indicated that Omir had recently appeared in a video made of a public meeting in southern Abyan province which was later screened by Al-Jazeera television.
"Saudis and Iranians at the Wadi Rafadh meeting were also among the dead," said the source, without going into detail.
A second security source told AFP that the raid had been launched after locals had tipped the authorities off about the meeting in Wadi Rafadh.
The Yemeni defence ministry cited a source in the High Security Council as confirming Thursday's raid in Shabwa but gave no death toll.
"Security forces will continue to hunt for terrorists... and thwart their criminal plans," the defence ministry quoted the source as saying.
A Yemeni official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that those attending the meeting "planned to launch terrorist attacks against economic installations in Yemen, in retaliation for Yemeni strikes launched last week."
A December 17 Yemeni air strike on one of the group's training camps in Abyan province killed 34 Al-Qaeda members, according to the Yemeni government.
A local official and a tribal source said that 49 civilians, including 23 women and 17 children, were among those killed in that strike.
On the same day, four members of Al-Qaeda were killed in Abhar, about 35 kilometres north of Sanaa, in what authorities presented as part of preventative operations against Al-Qaeda members planning attacks.
The Yemeni defence ministry said on Thursday that 29 Al-Qaeda members had been arrested in Yemen since the December 17 strike, revising an earlier figure of 30.
Deputy Prime Minister for Defence and Security Rashid al-Alimi raised the issue in parliament on Wednesday, saying the "fight against terrorism and the eradication of extremism is a national emergency," according to the official Saba news agency.
Thursday's strike brings the Yemeni government's tally of Al-Qaeda members killed over the past eight days to 68.
The New York Times reported that US President Barack Obama approved firepower, intelligence and other support for Yemen's efforts against Al-Qaeda.
Yemen, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin's ancestral homeland, has witnessed a number of attacks in recent years against targets including diplomatic missions, oil installations and foreign tourists.
Many attacks have been claimed by Al-Qaeda.
(with AFP report)