Ghost of slain cleric Awlaki looms over Paris attacks

9th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

The specter of late terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki looms over the Charlie Hebdo massacre after evidence emerged of links between the US-Yemeni cleric and the two brothers blamed for the killings.

Cherif Kouachi, who died with his brother Said in a bloody end to the drama in France on Friday, said a trip he made to Yemen in 2011 was financed by Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone the same year.

Kouachi made the claim to French media just hours before his death.

Separately, The Washington Post cited a Yemeni official as saying Said Kouachi had met Awlaki in 2011.

The apparent involvement of Awlaki in the mentoring of the Kouachis provided further insight into the influence of the firebrand militant, once placed in the same bracket as Osama bin Laden by anxious US authorities.

US citizen Awlaki was widely credited with helping to create Al-Qaeda's online English-language magazine "Inspire," while exhorting Muslims to wage jihad against the West with fiery online sermons posted on YouTube.

- Series of attacks -

He has been implicated in a series of attacks, mostly in the United States.

Nidal Malik Hasan, the US army major responsible for the massacre of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, was said to be in regular contact with Awlaki.

Nigerian student Umar Abdulmutallab -- the so-called "underwear bomber" who attempted to bring down a commercial passenger jet as it flew into Detroit in 2009 -- said he had listened to Awlaki's sermons in Yemen.

And Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad -- jailed for life in 2010 for the failed attempt to stage a massive car bombing in New York's Times Square -- also told investigators he was "inspired" by Awlaki.

Born in New Mexico in 1971 to Yemeni parents, Awlaki spent the bulk of his childhood in Yemen before returning to the United States to study at Colorado State University in the early 1990s.

His journey from scion of a well-to-do family -- his father was a former minister of agriculture in Yemen -- to Islamist firebrand is shrouded in mystery.

After studying in Colorado, he gained a degree in education leadership from San Diego State University. He is also believed to have spent time with the Afghan mujahedeen in the early 1990s.

He made a name for himself delivering sermons in English in mosques across the United States, where he also worked for a charity association founded by Yemeni cleric Abdel Majid al-Zindani, identified by United States authorities as a "global terrorist."

- 9/11 hijacker link -

Eventually settling in the eastern US, Awlaki served as imam at a mosque in Falls Church, northern Virginia.

Awlaki met two of the hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon building in the United States on September 11, 2001, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

The preacher's name kept coming up in the investigation following 9/11. His telephone number was found during a raid on a flat in Hamburg used by the hijackers.

Publicly, however, Awlaki had distanced himself from the attacks, telling The New York Times in an interview that the hijackers had "perverted their religion."

But as federal investigators continued to pore over his background, Awlaki left the US in 2002, heading to Britain for two years before eventually settling in Yemen.

Awlaki was arrested there in 2006 for his role in kidnapping the son of a rich Yemeni family and demanding ransom money "to finance Al-Qaeda," Yemeni security sources said.

Two years later he was set free on condition that he report to police daily, but he fled to another part of the country.

Awlaki went to ground after an air raid on December 24, 2009 struck a meeting of Al-Qaeda leaders in Shabwa province, killing 34.

Time was running out for Awlaki, who by now had become a key leader in the regional militant franchise known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

On September 30, 2011, a vehicle transporting Awlaki and three other Al-Qaeda suspects was obliterated by Hellfire missiles shot by Predator drones flying from a CIA base in the region.

© 2015 AFP

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