Two key al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen bit the dust today

U.S.-Born Qaeda Leader Killed in Yemen

SANA, Yemen — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and was considered its most dangerous English-speaking propagandist and plotter, was killed in an American drone strike on his vehicle on Friday, officials in Washington and Yemen said. They said the strike also killed a radical American colleague who was an editor of Al Qaeda’s online jihadist magazine.

Many details of the strike were unclear, but one American official said that Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years, had been identified as the target in advance and was killed with a Hellfire missile fired from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. The official said it was the first C.I.A. strike in Yemen since 2002. Yemen’s Defense Ministry confirmed Mr. Awlaki’s death.

The strike appeared to be the first time in the American-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately killed by American forces, a step that has raised contentious constitutional issues in the United States. It was also the second high-profile killing of an Al Qaeda leader in the past five months under the Obama administration, which ordered the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Mr. Awlaki was an important member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by some antiterrorism experts as the most dangerous branch of the Al Qaeda network. He was considered the inspirational or operational force behind a number of major plots aimed at killing Americans in the United States in recent years, most notably the deadly assault at an American army base in Fort Hood, Tex., and attempts to bomb Times Square and a Detroit-bound jetliner.

Yemen’s official news agency, Saba, reported that the attack also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who was an editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. An American official said the United States government believed Mr. Khan had been killed as well. It was not clear whether Mr. Khan, who proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America,” was also a deliberate target of the strike.

A Yemeni Defense Ministry statement said that a number of Mr. Awlaki’s bodyguards were also killed.

Neither the Americans nor the Yemenis explained precisely how they knew that Mr. Awlaki had been confirmed dead.

This operation raises interesting constitutional questions about whether or not the federal government has the right to order the assassination of American citizens. Given Yemen’s teetering status as a quasi-failed state and the lack of effective government institutions in the country, expecting local authorities to arrest Awlaki or Khan or extradite them to the United States for trial was simply not a viable option.

ABC’s Jake Tapper recaps the high-level terrorist leaders who have been captured or killed during Obama’s presidency… He’s racked up quite the body count.

For laughs, the Drunk Predator Drone has weighed in on the assassination via Twitter.

Full disclosure: I once e-mailed Anwar al-Awlaki through his now-defunct website/blog for comment on a story about Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal al Hassan I was working on for CNN back in 2009. I never got a response.

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