US Rep. Peter King praises Obama over death of a man he describes as 'more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden'
NBC News and news services
updated 20 minutes ago
SANAA, Yemen — An American radical cleric linked to al-Qaida who led an organization labeled as one of the most serious threats to U.S. security has been killed in Yemen, the country's defense ministry said on Friday.
"The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions," the defense ministry said in a statement sent by text message to journalists, Reuters reported.
A Yemeni security official told Reuters that al-Awlaki, who is of Yemeni descent, was hit in a Friday morning air raid in the northern al-Jawf province that borders oil giant Saudi Arabia.
He said four others killed with him were suspected al-Qaida members.
While the American government did not immediately officially verify the claim, NBC News' Chuck Todd reported that a senior official had confirmed to him that al-Awlaki had been killed.
NBC News' Richard Engel reported in a message on Twitter that a Yemen source said al-Awlaki was killed by U.S. planes. An American drone aircraft targeted but missed him in May.
Story: Plenty of al-Qaida targets remain after Osama bin Laden's death
U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, hailed al-Awlaki's death as "a great success in our fight" against al-Qaida and its affiliates, in a statement sent to NBC News.
"For the past several years, al-Awlaki has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been. The killing of al-Awlaki is a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community," he added.
'We must remain vigilant'
However King, a Republican, warned that "we must remain as vigilant as ever, knowing that there are more Islamic terrorists who will gladly step forward to backfill this dangerous killer."
New Mexico-born al-Awlaki had been implicated in the botched Christmas Day so-called underwear bombing attempt on a U.S.-bound plane in 2009.
U.S. authorities have branded him a "global terrorist" but Yemen had previously appeared reluctant to act against him.
Al-Awlaki was one of the top officials at Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which was also thought to have been behind the plot to send printer cartridges packed with explosives to the U.S.
AQAP usually confirms the deaths of its members or affiliates on Internet posts a few days after the attack.
Al-Awlaki was not the leader of AQAP — that is Nasser al-Wuhayshi — but he ranked as its most gifted English-language propagandist.
He preached at mosques in northern Virginia and San Diego attended by three of the Sept. 11 hijackers in the 18 months before the attacks.
In 2010, U.S. officials designated him an individual who had committed or was likely to commit a terrorist act and froze his assets.
U.S. officials believe he built a substantial following in the United States and other Western nations through English-language postings on the Internet.
One of the biggest concerns about al-Awlaki has been his success in attracting and inspiring disaffected young Muslims, some of them converts to Islam.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who is charged with killing 12 people in a shooting spree at the Fort Hood military base in Texas in 2009, was an admirer and emailed the preacher. The extent to which al-Awlaki responded is unclear.
Yemen in turmoil
Yemen has been mired in turmoil after eight months of mass protests demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.
International powers have feared the unrest has emboldened AQAP. Militants with suspected links to the group have seized towns in a southern coastal province near a strategic shipping lane.
One analyst said al-Awlaki's killing would be more of a boon to Saleh than a loss for AQAP.
"For AQAP, these franchises are usually resilient. There are other capable leaders in AQAP who can fill his shoes," said Theodore Karasik, security analyst for the Dubai based INEGMA group. "It's a short step backwards which will likely result in more assertion in the future, for the revenge of his martyrdom."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Not sure how I feel on this one. On the one hand, terrorist leader, glad he's dead. On the other, American citizen was killed with no trial or conviction. But I guess if we can go around killing other countries citizens who ally themselves with TEH EBIL DOOERS then it's only fitting we can kill our own who do the same.