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Yemeni Judge Orders 'Forcible' Arrest of US-Born Cleric

Anwar al-Awlaki (file)

A Yemeni judge has issued an arrest warrant for militant U.S.-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki during a trial related to the killing of a French oil worker last month.

The Yemeni judge's decision to order the capture of Anwar al-Awlaki was officially tied Saturday to the U.S.-born cleric's absence at his trial that is related to the death of a French oil industry worker, last month.

Awlaki is accused, along with two other suspects, of inciting the killings of foreigners inside Yemen. Only one of the accused men is actually present for the trial.

Judge Mohsen Allwan's directive to Yemeni security forces to arrest Awlaki "by force, dead or alive," echoes a U.S. decision in April to authorize his capture or killing.

Yemen Post Editor-in-Chief Hakim Almasmari says that the judge ordered the arrest of Awlaki because of email correspondence with one of the suspects. "The judge said that the other person who killed the French (worker), (Hisham) Assim, was encouraged by (Awlaki) and that (the killing) took place because of emails that they (sent) to each other over the last two months," he said.

The Yemeni decision to arrest Awlaki comes after months of hesitation. His father is a prominent politician who has pleaded publicly for the government not to go after him.

Suspicion, however, of Awlaki's involvement in the recent airplane mail bomb plot may have forced the government's hand in ordering his arrest.

Princeton University Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen points out that the Yemeni government now has a good domestic reason to arrest al Awlaki. "Through the course of the trial of the one Yemeni individual who is being charged with the death of the French oil worker from last month, I think with Anwar al-Awlaki's name linked to him, then Yemen has a domestic reason to go after him," he said.

Johnsen also points out that talk of Awlaki's involvement in the recent mail bomb plot has intensified U.S. pressure on Yemen to act against the radical cleric, as well. "There's been significant pressure that's been building from the U.S. for the Yemeni government to take action on Anwar al-Awlaki and of course with the parcel bombs being traced back and then the claim of responsibility from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, I think the Yemeni government felt as though right now was a good to time to show itself to be pro-active on the issue of Anwar al-Awlaki," he said.

Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh vowed last weekend to cooperate with the U.S. in its fight against al-Qaida.

U.S. authorities accuse Awlaki of ties to Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, as well as Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane to Detroit on Christmas Day of last year.

Awlaki, who is the author of numerous sermons in English calling for jihad against the U.S., is thought to be hiding in the mountains of Yemen's Shabwa province.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates said Saturday that it will review the possibility that a bomb brought down a UPS cargo plane over Dubai in September. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the crash Friday, but Dubai police officials have repeatedly ruled out terrorism as the cause of the crash.