This is a cross-post from Shiraz Maher
CBS News is breaking an exclusive story over in the United States. It seems that Anwar al-Awlaki did indeed direct the abortive Christmas day attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Here’s what CBS are reporting:
The suspect in a failed Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt told federal investigators that radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki directed him to carry out the attack, CBS News has learned.
The source said Abdulmutallab told investigators he was guided by al-Awalki to detonate the bomb over U.S. soil, unlike the failed British bomber plot in 2006 when the bombers were instructed to detonate bombs on airliners over the ocean on the way to the U.S. so that there would be no evidence left behind.
This is confirmation of what many of us had long suspected – that Awlaki is not just an al-Qaeda theorist, but is now playing an active leadership role within the organisation too. These revelations will certainly make uncomfortable reading for many of his British based supporters – some of whom should now be urgently investigated by the police.
Cage Prisoners have been among Awlaki’s biggest cheerleaders in the UK. The group’s director is Moazzam Begg, a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay, whose first brush with the law came in March 2000, when a bookshop he ran called Maktabah al Ansaar was raided by West Midlands Police during an intelligence-led operation by the Security Service.
Begg conducted a remarkably soft-soap interview with Awlaki in 2007 for Cage Prisoners.
Are you allowed to travel outside the Yemen? Obviously, many people want you to come to the United Kingdom and elsewhere, to come and give lectures, and you’ve only been out a few days! I think this is based on a question from a lot of your supporters, subhan Allah [Glory be to God]. Are you allowed to travel outside the Yemen to give lectures?
And, for those who wanted to get in touch with Awlaki, Cage Prisoners helpfully suggested:
You can send a message to Imam Anwar by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can listen to an audio recording of the interview here:
Begg recently explained:
Interviewing Awlaki was important on many levels for Cageprisoners, not least because he was a prisoner held in the Middle East at the behest of the US. This was noted even by Human Rights Watch who also sought our assistance in trying to secure an interview with him, as well as several western media outlets. After his release, I am told, Anwar’s position on issues pertaining to US foreign policy had started to become more hostile. Cageprisoners went on to invite Awlaki to deliver audio-recorded addresses at two of our annual dinners, speaking solely on the issue of prisoners’ rights as prisoners and their families would find solace in hearing from a scholar who was a former prisoner and could relate to their experience.
A cursory look at Awlaki’s pre-incarceration lectures would clearly show just why he became so popular. He was not a radical ‘preacher of hate’ by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst teaching Islamic principles in an erudite and articulate way – he neither shied away from talking about the Islamic concept of jihad (in military terms) nor from condemning the September 11 attacks and terrorism in general.
Yet, this is how Charles Allen, former under-secretary of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, describes him:
[Awlaki is an] al-Qa’ida supporter, and former spiritual leader to three of the September 11th hijackers Anwar al-Awlaki-who targets U.S. Muslims with radical online lectures encouraging terrorist attacks from his new home in Yemen.
That is certainly true. Awlaki was in contact with the Fort Hood terrorist, Major Nidal Hasan, and later described him as a ‘hero’. We now also know that he directed the Christmas day attack on Delta airlines.
Despite that, Awlaki is a man who Cage Prisoners still refer to as ‘inspirational’. Indeed, here’s Asim Qureshi, another senior member of Cage Prisoners preaching jihad:
So when we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is, and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West. Allahu Akbar!
Of course, Afghanistan and Iraq are theatres of conflict where British troops are currently serving, while Qureshi says it is ‘incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West’.
For Awlaki, the end is nigh. Dennis Blair, America’s national intelligence director, recently declared that the US government is prepared to kill American citizens abroad if they are operational terrorists threatening the security of the United States. He told the House Intelligence Committee:
We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community. If that direct action — we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.
Topping the list of such Americans may be Anwar al-Awlaki, currently living in Yemen. Privately, many administration officials said he is one of the next American citizens abroad with whom the U.S. intelligence community wants to deal.
Al-Awlaki is a fugitive American-born preacher whom a U.S. counterterrorism official described as a "key associate of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula‘s top leaders and one of their go-to men for external plotting."
What remains unanswered is how Cage Prisoners and Moazzam Begg enjoyed such close access to the al-Qaeda affiliated Awlaki for so long. After all, they were expecting a special audio message from him just weeks before he praised the Fort Hood terrorist and subsequently went into hiding. That means they will have been in contact with him, raising all kinds of very serious questions: how can an individual or a group operating in this country simply pick up the phone and call, or email, an al-Qaeda affiliated leader abroad?
It is time for the Security Service and police to urgently investigate Awlaki’s British network of supporters – something my colleague Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens has lucidly written about here.
Meanwhile, it seems like Awlaki’s cards are numbered. I suspect he will have to keep running now until Abdulmutallab eventually gives up his location. Oh well.