Radical Imam Believed Dead in Yemen Airstrike
by Steven Emerson
Interview on Fox News
December 24, 2009
Multimedia for this item
KELLY WRIGHT: Well, two sources telling Fox News that U.S. intelligence believes a radical Muslim preacher with ties to the suspected Fort Hood shooter is likely dead after an airstrike this morning on Yemen. Yemeni authorities still working to confirm what took place and that Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed along with 29 other militants at a suspected Al Qaeda hideout.
The American-born imam [is] believed to have corresponded with suspected Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, before the mass shooting at Fort Hood back on November 5th.
For more insight, let's go now to terrorism expert Steve Emerson, who joins us now. He is the Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and author of Jihad Incorporated.
Steve, thanks for joining us today.
STEVEN EMERSON: Sure.
WRIGHT: These new findings – or these new reports – that are being confirmed to Fox News right now about the death of Awlaki, what does it mean in terms of the War on Terrorism? Does it mean that the United States is stepping up or intensifying its war on terror?
EMERSON: It certainly does, if confirmed. And so far jihadi websites have not been issuing statements of mourning or declarations of retaliation, so we don't know for sure, but it looks like he was killed. It is definitely an impressive victory in the battle against jihadists – and especially against Al Qaeda leaders.
Al-Awlaki, the cleric, ironically issued an interview just two days ago, and it was translated by MEMRI [The Middle East Media Research Institute], in which he openly stated that he had encouraged and, in fact, made obligatory the shooting at Fort Hood by telling Major Hasan that it was necessary to kill American soldiers. So he sort of signed his own death warrant after he had made that interview, although it may just have been a coincidence that he was killed at this moment.
Certainly, he is one of the few English speaking Islamic radical preachers who can appeal to Western-style jihadists. So taking him out of action definitely removes a major source of inspiration to jihadists in the West.
WRIGHT: Does it also suggest that there's been a lot of Saudi support in terms of dealing with terrorism, and what would that mean in terms of the future in dealing with Al Qaeda remnants there in Yemen as well as other parts of the world?
EMERSON: Well, if, in fact, this indicates that there is a new level of cooperation by Yemeni authorities and/ or Saudi authorities, that would be very advantageous and beneficial to the United States government because, up until now, Yemen has sort of been a – sort of Wild West where anybody could function there, and command and control of Al Qaeda was operating freely. So if, in fact, they took U.S. intelligence and targeted Awlaki, it would make a definitive statement that they are stepping up their alliance with the United States, and that would be a very good diplomatic and military alliance for the future.
WRIGHT: Steve, I want to ask you a couple of quick questions real quickly – I'm losing some time here. But getting back to Nidal Hasan speaking with Awlaki, does this mean that, perhaps, the military and police should look at that attack on U.S. troops there at Fort Hood as a terrorist attack and not a random act of violence by a man who may have just lost it?
EMERSON: Absolutely. Awlaki's interview definitively shows that the Hasan attack was an act of Islamic terrorism, and it should have been classified as such. And I know that federal prosecutors are very frustrated by the fact that they can't use the PATRIOT Act that would expedite and accelerate the prosecution, because it has not been classified as a terrorist attack. But his statements clearly show that it was an Islamic terrorist attack.
WRIGHT: Alright, real quickly, one final question: Saudis. We understand, or we are at least getting some reports, that the Saudis may be giving Israel the go-ahead to do something about Iran and its nuclear buildup. Are you hearing anything about that to confirm that?
EMERSON: Well, for a while now, there have been quiet signals and quiet diplomacy in which, basically, Saudi Arabia has essentially stated, though not articulated exactly in these words, that it would turn a blind eye to an Israeli strike on Iran because the Saudis are just as much threatened by an Iranian nuclear capability as the Israelis.
WRIGHT: And Steve, as you know, that would be a very significant development, if it is the case.
Steve Emerson, terrorism expert for us, thank you very much sir for keeping us up to date. Thank you.