U.S. forces nearly killed Yemeni al-Qaida ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki Thursday, while al-Qaida in Iraq lost a senior leader during a failed prison break. The increasing pressure on al-Qaida leaders follows the assassination of the group's mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Awlaki narrowly survived a drone strike, after switching vehicles with fellow al-Qaida members who were then killed by American missiles. Yemeni intelligence officials claim that beleaguered President Ali Abdullah Saleh gave the U.S. information about Awlaki's whereabouts, in an effort to gain some support for his shaky regime. Although Awlaki is not in charge of Yemen's al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), he is a prominent online terrorist ideologue among English-language speaking jihadis.
In Iraq, at least 17 prison inmates and four policemen were killed during a riot at a high-security prison in Baghdad. Among the dead was senior al-Qaida in Iraq figure Huthaifa al-Batawi, who was killed while leading the riot. "This incident was planned well in advance," said Baghdad's security spokesman, Major General Qassim Atta. "The criminals were high-level members of the Islamic State of Iraq [al-Qaeda's front group]. The prime minister has ordered a committee to investigate the incident."
Al-Qaida in Iraq, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq, recently became the first branch of the group to pledge its loyalty to second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"I tell our brothers in al Qaeda organization and on the top of them Sheikh Mujahid Ayman al-Zawahri ... be merry, you have faithful men in the Islamic State of Iraq who are following the right path and will not quit or be forced out," said caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISC), Abu Baker al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi. "I swear by God, blood for blood and destruction for destruction."