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Friday, May 6, 2011

Drone Targets Yemeni Cleric but misses

The U.S. launched a drone strike in Yemen on Thursday aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric suspected of orchestrating terrorist attacks in the U.S, but he evaded the missile, Yemeni and U.S. officials said.

The attack appears to be unrelated to intelligence information taken in the raid that killed bin Laden, whose death was confirmed by al Qaeda Friday in a statement that vowed to continue attacks on Americans.

The attempt to kill Mr. Awlaki was the first known U.S. military strike inside Yemen since May 2010, when U.S. missiles mistakenly killed one of Mr. Saleh's envoys and an unknown number of other people. That soured relations and prompted the administration to pull back.

According to a Yemeni account of Thursday's strike, the U.S. launched two separate attacks within 45 minutes aimed at Mr. Awlaki in the southern province of Shebwa, which is considered an AQAP stronghold.
The strike was conducted by the U.S. military, but the operation—like the bin Laden raid—appears to have benefitted from close cooperation between the Department of Defense, the CIA and Yemeni officials.

In the first strike, the U.S. fired three rockets at a pickup truck in which Mr. Awlaki and a Saudi national and suspected al Qaeda member were traveling outside the village of Jahwa, located some 20 miles away from the Shebwa provincial capital, said local residents and the Yemeni security official. Those missiles didn't hit their target.

Two Yemeni brothers, who were known by local residents for giving shelter to al Qaeda militants, rushed to the scene of the attack. Mr. Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the two Yemenis in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the Yemenis inside.

Mr. Awlaki escaped in the other vehicle along with the Saudi. A Yemeni defense ministry official identified the two dead men as Musaid Mubarak Al-Daghari and his brother Abdullah.Unlike the bin Laden raid, which was carried out without Pakistani knowledge, the Yemeni government was a participant.

"The Yemeni government gave the U.S. authorities vital details of Awlaki's whereabouts in Shabwa days ago," said a senior Yemeni security official. The official said the Yemeni government had full knowledge of the attack ahead of the U.S. strike.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have been worried in recent weeks that the unrest in Yemen, and Mr. Saleh's increasingly weak position, had given a free hand to AQAP to plot fresh attacks against the West.

In the past several weeks, more than half of the U.S.-trained and funded Yemeni counter-terrorism forces assigned to Shebwa have left their posts. Many have been ordered to redploy in the capital, where Mr. Saleh has been besieged by thousands of protesters and army units which have defected from his command. (Full Story here)

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