Even though he is an American, a radical U.S.-born cleric says Muslims should not hesitate to kill Americans, arguing that no religious rulings are needed "to fight the devil." Anwar al-Awlaki, wanted by both the United States and Yemen, where he is based, made the appeal in an Internet video released Monday.
In a wide-ranging 23-minute talk, the al-Qaida-linked cleric condemned Iran, Israel and the leaders of Arab nations. He went further in regard to the people of the United States.
The American-born Awlaki told his followers that they do not need to consult with anyone before killing Americans. He said for Muslims it is a question of "us or them."
Awlaki is wanted by both the U.S. and Yemen for his suspected role in terrorist attacks, including the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner late last year. He is also believed to have acted as an advisor to the suspect in a deadly shooting spree at a U.S. military base in Texas and the killing of a Frenchman in Yemen earlier this year.
U.S. authorities believe he is an active member of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The video message, parts of which were released last month, come days after the terrorist organization claimed responsibility for attempting to send bombs in air cargo to the United States. The packages were intercepted by authorities tipped off by Saudi intelligence. The terrorist group has also claimed responsibility for attacks that killed Yemeni civilians.
In the video, Awlaki also condemns Arab leaders as corrupt, including those in Yemen.
Political analyst Stephen Steinbeiser says many Yemenis, and others in the region, side with Americans against terrorists. But the resident director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies says the cleric may be trying to attract followers beyond his regular jihadist sympathizers.
"I think he is reaching for a broader audience and I think that when Yemenis begin to feel that someone like al-Awlaki is singling out corrupt leaders, then it becomes a much more appealing message and they many begin to listen to other types of things he is saying," said Steinbeiser.
But such a move could strengthen the resolve of the Yemeni government in hunting him down. The Sana'a-based Steinbeiser says many in Yemen believe the government knows where al-Awlaki is hiding or at least the general locale. But he notes officials may be hindered by the fact the al-Awlaki family is very powerful in the clan- and tribe-dominated country.
"There are potential repercussions politically, and potential violent repercussions if they go after al-Awlaki [as] the U.S. would like. So the Yemeni government has to walk a bit of a fine line," Steinbeiser said. "At the same time, I think they realize that he is an increasing threat and certainly with this latest message, it shows he is not afraid of the threats made against him, and he seems to want to escalate the situation."
The Yemeni government has pledged to help the United States in tracking al-Awlaki down, and last week put him on trial in absentia for incitement and plotting to kill foreigners.
The United States is believed to have already put al-Awlaki on a special list of Americans who security forces are authorized to capture dead or alive.