x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Obama says nation is safer after death of first US citizen on kill list

The US president paid tribute to Yemen's security forces, "who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years".

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, the US president, yesterday called the killing of Anwar Al Awlaki a "major blow" to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

"The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates," Mr Obama said at a ceremony marking the retirement of Admiral Mike Mullen as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Mr Obama credited US intelligence for killing the US-born radical cleric, reportedly by an air strike on his convoy yesterday in Yemen. He paid tribute to Yemen's security forces, "who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years".

Al Awlaki's "hateful ideology and targeting of innocent civilians has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims and people of all faiths," Mr Obama said. "And he has met his demise because the government and people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against Al Qaeda."

Republican senators also welcomed the killing. Olympia Snowe, a member of the Senate select committee on intelligence, said Al Awlaki's death was a "significant" blow against a "damaged but still dangerous terror network".

Another Republican senator, Susan Collins, said Americans were "safer because Al Awlaki is dead". Ms Collins is the top Republican on the Senate committee on homeland security and governmental relations.

The US considered Al Awlaki the leader of AQAP's foreign operations. Though he was understood to be mostly a spokesman and a recruiter rather than an operative, he was accused of being instrumental in at least four plots on US soil in recent years - a shooting at Fort Hood in Texas and three failed attacks: a Times Square bombing, a man who put explosives in his underwear and a bomb hidden inside a printer on a cargo plane. Al Awlaki, a father of five, was the first American citizen the US government designated a legal target for assassination in the post-September 11 years.

Mr Obama warned that though "weakened", AQAP was still dangerous. He said the US would "be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans".

okarmi@thenational.ae