Quick Take: Anwar al Awlaki - Militant Islam's Global Preacher

March 12, 2010

As Tuesday’s charges against Colleen LaRose, also known as “Jihad Jane,” show, the recruitment of potential terrorists over the Internet continues to grow.  Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born cleric residing in Yemen, is a leader among those inspiring radical Muslims to pursue violent jihad over the internet. He has popularized violent, radical Islamist ideology in clear-spoken English through videos, audio clips, and transcripts of lectures – copies of which have been found in the possession of convicted terrorists inside and outside the U.S. Awlaki has played a direct role in motivating individuals such as Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and may have even played an operational role in the recent Christmas Day bombing attempt.

Critical Threats has produced a backgrounder on Anwar al Awlaki that traces his role in terrorist plots since 9/11 and focuses on the following key points:

  • Anwar al Awlaki is an American-born, inspirational cleric who preaches in support of violent jihad against the West.
  • Broadcasting his messages in colloquial English over the internet, with videos or audio recordings of his lectures easily available on popular forums such as YouTube, Awlaki has made al Qaeda’s ideology accessible to English-speaking Muslims regardless of their geographic locations. This distribution and popularity in the West sets him apart from other militant Islamist clerics who have played inspirational and operational roles in terrorist activities.
  • His work has served as inspiration for many terrorists and would-be terrorists including those connected to the 7/7 bombings in London, the Toronto 18 group in Canada, and the Fort Dix plot in the U.S.  Awlaki’s name also surfaced in direct connection with the 9/11 attack, the Virginia Jihad Network, the Fort Hood shooting, and the Christmas Day attack.
  • The U.S. government now recognizes Awlaki as a direct threat to national security because of his ability to inspire radical Islamists to commit violent acts and because of indications that Awlaki has moved beyond the role of a propagandist, especially in preparing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for the Christmas Day attack.  Analysts credit Awlaki with an ability to recruit potential terrorists into the ranks of such organizations as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.