By Sam Youngman and Emily Goodin - 09/30/11 03:59 PM EDT
President Obama on Friday hailed the killing of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, calling it “another significant milestone” in the effort to defeat al Qaeda.
The president, delivering a tribute to outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, said “the death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate.”
While the president acknowledged that al Qaeda “remains a dangerous but weakened terrorist organization” on the Arabian peninsula, the killing of Awlaki represents another significant victory for the commander in chief in the War on Terror.
The news of Awlaki’s death follows the Obama administration’s successful mission to find and kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
After bin Laden’s death in May, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said two of his top goals were to remove Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new head of the terrorist organization, and Awlaki.
The Obama administration authorized Awlaki’s killing in April 2010. His death is one of the most significant victories in the war against al Qaeda since bin Laden’s.
Awlaki, a New Mexico-born cleric, has been implicated in several attacks on U.S. soil, including the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009; an attempt later that year to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner; and a 2010 attempt to send parcel bombs on cargo plans bound for the United States.
He left the United States in 2002. His lectures in English on Islamic scripture drew countless followers on the Internet, including Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the Fort Hood shootings. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square last year, cited Awlaki as an inspiration.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, praised Awlaki’s killing.
“For the past several years, [Awlaki] has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been,” King said in a news release. “The killing of [Awlaki] is a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community.”
House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) noted that in the past few months “serious damage has been inflicted on al Qaeda’s leadership.”
“Another very dangerous terrorist has been eliminated today, but there is still work to be done,” he said in a release. “We must continue to aggressively pursue al Qaeda in Yemen and wherever we find them around the world. We must not relent in our efforts to defeat this terrorist network.”