Anwar al-Awlaki and America's fear of the enemy within

Anwar Anwar al-Awlaki Awlaki's death follows a series of other killings of senior al-Qaeda operatives this summer

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Anwar al-Awlaki was an example of one of America's most potent fears: the enemy within.

He was born, raised and educated in America, a citizen of America who turned against the country he knew best.

He literally spoke their language and used it to exhort other Americans to kill their fellow citizens.

It is claimed that he was the intellectual driving force behind just about all the recent attacks or foiled plots.

He is meant to have given religious advice to the soldier accused of the Fort Hood killings.

The man who planned a Times Square bombing said Awlaki was his inspiration.

He "communicated" with the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a plane using explosives in his underpants.

Attack on First Amendment?

But it is perhaps as a symbol that he both puzzles and infuriates Americans.

Not a tribesman from a distant country who knew of America only through ill-digested propaganda.

He lived here, day by day, for the best part of two decades. He knew the country well. And he hated it.

That scares Americans and makes a minority of them look with suspicion on all those who share his religion.

There will be questions raised about his killing. He was at the top of the US hit list - but this is the execution of an American citizen without a trial.

If the pundits are to be believed, he inspired attacks rather than plotted them, although there are suggestions he had a more operational role recently.

But it raises the possibility that he was assassinated for what he said, not what he did.

Although this will be looked at by many as a legal question, it is really a moral and political one.

Still, very few Americans will worry about the infringements of his rights under the first amendment.

Those who will be most alarmed are left-wingers, natural supporters of the president.

Their distaste undermines Republican arguments that he is craven when it comes to national security, so it does President Obama little political damage and some good.

Indeed, this appears to be another vindication of Mr Obama's policy of seeking out and killing terrorists.

Although aides point out he's merely doing what he said he would do during his election campaign, it is also part of an important transition from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism.

Yemen is a more virulent breeding ground for America's enemies than Afghanistan. But there aren't thousands of US troops in the Arabian peninsula, nor will there be.

Of course, Yemen and Afghanistan's backgrounds are very different.

Put simply, Mr Obama believes that you don't need thousands of American troops on the ground to keep America safe.

This killing will help him argue the success of that policy.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Imagine how many lives would have been saved on both sides if this had been done with Bin Laden, as opposed to the invasion.

    As for his being 'home grown', it's not so scary if he is a red herring. The right question to ask is "how many like him are out there?" My guess, based upon the infrequency of attacks by home-grown terrorists, would be 'not many'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    USA as well as the UK have to stay lucky all the time, coz these followers of Al-Qaida are everywhere and unidentifiable. They are not in uniform nor do they live in barracks or have warplanes and tanks to be identified with.

    They can afford to lie low as time is on their side. Whereas we recruit, train our fighting personnel, theirs are born in to it and raised for nothing else but to fight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Just being born in a country does not mean that you like that country or even wish to be loyal to it. People make their own choices, and bear the consequences of their actions. The consequences in this case being that he's been killed out-of-hand by a President who wants to look tough. The legitimacy of that killing is a matter for the courts, should it ever get there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Re #2

    1. An enemy combatant in Yemen is hardly an "enemy within".

    2. So far there's no evidence that this "US citizen" has been "executed without trial"

    More likely he was simply a victim of one of many UAV attacks striking AQAP leaders whenever there's an actionable intelligence.

    BTW. Major Nidal Hasan was not only U.S. citizen but also an officer in the U.S. Army. Execute him twice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Is this a tribute to being inspired by USA's NASA?

    Is this b/c USA no longer can afford space shuttles?
    An excerpt:
    China's state broadcaster isn't saying why the station ran the music to "America the Beautiful" during the gala live broadcast of the country's latest space launch

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    MM "Their [left-wingers] distaste undermines Republican arguments that he is craven when it comes to national security, so it does President Obama little political damage and some good."

    Not sure of that. It will supply another argument to those leftists who claim that Obama betrayed their "cause" by not being liberal, peacenik and leftist enough. And they were his core electorat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    If this had been done under George W Bush, the BBC would have been screaming blue murder. Yet when Obama does it, all that happens is that it "undermines Republican arguments". Ho-hum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Why are you trying to bootstrap this into a first amendment issue?

    It isn't what he said, it's what he *was* - a leading figure within AQAP.

    He took up arms against the US - whether or not he's a citizen is irrelevant, he declared himself a combatant and as such became a legitimate target.

    If there's any "enemy within", it's the media when they try to make more out of things than they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Best news in long time!
    Taking al-Awlaki or as I call him al-Wacky and the other American al Qaeda guy down was a HUGE VICTORY for USA!!!! ;)

    Millions of lives around the world have been saved

    Their goal was to destroy us, our country and our allies
    They would have never stopped trying to harm us

    Thank you to President Obama, CIA, military, Yemen and everyone who helped!!!

    Go USA!!!


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