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Al-Awlaki's Message to Muslims

Anwar al-Awlaki in 2008

Anwar al-Awlaki in 2008

This past Sunday a video was released by a Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda in which Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric, called for the killing of U.S. civilians. Al-Awlaki has become a main al-Qaeda recruiter and U.S. intelligence has linked him to the 9/11 hijackers, Nidal Hasan (the alleged Fort Hood shooter), and the Christmas Day would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. This year al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to be placed on a CIA list of terrorists approved for targeted killing. The U.S. intelligence community believes al-Awlaki is an active member of al-Qaeda, however his specific role in the group is still unclear. The recently released video provides the most blatant connection we’ve seen so far between the cleric and al-Qaeda.

Here are a few paragraphs from a transcript of the video, discussing Nidal Hasan, Abdul Mutallab, al-Awlaki’s stance on the killing of civilians, and his call for jihad against the U.S.:

“Nidal Hasan is a student of mine, and I am proud of this. I am proud that there are people like Nidal Hasan among my students. What he did was a heroic act, a wonderful operation. I ask Allah to make him steadfast, to protect him, and to free him. I support what he did, and I call upon anyone who calls himself a Muslim, and serves in the US army, to follow in the footsteps of Nidal Hasan. Good deeds erase bad ones. In addition, I call upon [all] Muslims to follow in his footsteps, and to wage Jihad by speech or by action. Nidal Hasan set a wonderful example, and I ask Allah to make it a beginning, and that many other Muslims will follow in his footsteps… Nidal Hasan used to be an American Muslim, the way the US wants them to be. Nidal Hasan used to pray, fast, and give zakat, but at the same time, he was a soldier in the US army, whose loyalty lay with America. Then, as a result of America’s crimes, he turned into a mujahid for the sake of Allah. From being an American soldier, Nidal Hasan turned into a mujahid who killed the soldiers with whom he served. If America’s crimes continue, we will see a new Nidal Hasan. There are also mujahideen from the West, or from America, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and this phenomenon will grow, due to the Western and American crimes in the Islamic world.”

“[Abdul Mutallab’s] operation fulfilled some goals of the mujahideen. It is considered an operation of retaliation and deterrence against the Americans. This operation demonstrated the flaws in the US security agencies, both in their intelligence and in their [homeland] security. The Americans spent over $40 billion on their airport security, and then the mujahid Umar Farouk managed to penetrate these measures. In addition, the intelligence agencies claim that he was under surveillance, yet he managed to reach Detroit, in the heart of America. This operation achieved great successes, even without killing a single person. As for the brother Umar Farouk, he is likewise a student of mine, and this also is an honor. I support what he did.”

The interviewer asked, “Do you support such operations, even though they target what the media calls ‘innocent civilians’?” Al-Awlaki responded:

“Yes. With regard to the issue of ‘civilians,’ this term has become prevalent these days, but I prefer to use the terms employed by our jurisprudents. They classify people as either combatants or non-combatants. A combatant is someone who bears arms – even if this is a woman. Non-combatants are people who do not take part in the war. The American people in its entirety takes part in the war, because they elected this administration, and they finance this war. In the recent elections, and in the previous ones, the American people had other options, and could have elected people who did not want war. Nevertheless, these candidates got nothing but a handful of votes. We should examine this issue from the perspective of Islamic law, and this settles the issue – is it permitted or forbidden? If the heroic mujahid brother Umar Farouk could have targeted hundreds of soldiers, that would have been wonderful. But we are talking about the realities of war.”

“My message to the Muslims in general, and to those in the Arabian Peninsula in particular, is that we should participate in this Jihad against America. Today, America leads the global Crusader campaign against the Muslims. The America of today is the Pharaoh of the past. We should take part in it. We have a glimmer of hope in this small band of mujahideen in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Somalia, who have managed to bring the US army to its knees. Due to this Jihad, the US economy is reeling today. If that small band of mujahideen have managed to defeat America, imagine what would happen if the Islamic nation rose up. America cannot withstand this Islamic nation. It is too weak. America’s cunning is weaker than a spider web.”

In the video, al-Awlaki claims he is not a fugitive and has not been accused of anything. Meanwhile, shortly after the release of the video, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the U.S. is “actively trying to find” al-Awlaki. “The president will continue to take action directly at terrorists like al-Awlaki and keep our country safe from their murderous thugs,” Gibbs stated. The use of the word “thugs” for terrorists is a little disconcerting. Surely al-Awlaki is more than a thug if the U.S. government has declared the military can legally assassinate him. Ali Mohammed al-Ansi, Yemen’s national security chief and head of the president’s office has affirmed that the country’s security forces will pursue al-Awlaki until he turns himself in or he is arrested. If Yemeni security forces capture al-Awlaki they want to prosecute the cleric on Yemeni soil. I have a feeling this is not the U.S. intelligence community’s first choice for al-Awlaki’s future. All of this leaves me wondering, is everyone on the same page here?

The video further proves that in the War on Terror, the strategy of decapitation, or the killing of the leaders of enemy organizations, can never be completely successful. There will always be more bin Ladens and more al-Awlakis. The next generation of recruiters and inspirational leaders is forming as this video spreads across the internet, disseminating the ideology of the global salafi movement further and further by the minute. The Washington Post stated, “the video may also indicate al-Qaeda is trying to seize upon al-Awlaki’s recruiting prowess by featuring him in its videos.” Maybe this formal introduction of al-Awlaki onto the jihadi scene is meant to inject new blood into the movement. If so, I don’t doubt that it’s working.