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The suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the suspect in the attempted car bombing at Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, also said they were inspired by Mr. al-Awlaki’s anti-American sermons.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter, said: “Al Qaeda, its regional nodes and other terrorist groups have produced propaganda for years in English and other languages. That’s not new.”

But the official said such propaganda is “an easy way for them to spread their message, promote radicalization, and — perhaps — attract new recruits to the Arabian Peninsula.”

The magazine’s cover prominently features this quote from Mr. al-Awlaki: “May our souls be sacrificed for you!”

The U.S. counterterrorism official said the Yemeni cleric frequently relies on propaganda to spread his radical messages.

Awlaki’s no stranger to propaganda, and he’s used it often,” the counterterrorism official said. “But it’s important to note that it’s not his words, but his actions — his role in operations — that make him more dangerous than he was before.”

Mr. Zarate said while Mr. al-Awlaki has traditionally played the role of “the firebrand and of the Westernized voice of the jihadi narrative — someone who could speak English well and use the Internet to espouse a radical ideology — over the past few years it is clear that Awlaki has taken a more operational role in recruiting operatives for al Qaeda in Yemen and in helping plan operations.”

“In some ways he has crossed the line from being a mere firebrand to being an all-purpose recruiter and high-level operative for al Qaeda in Yemen,” he said.

President Obama earlier this year approved a “capture or kill” order on Mr. al-Awlaki. The move was unusual because Mr. al-Awlaki, a Yemeni citizen, also has U.S. citizenship.

Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen has grown since 2000, when it bombed the USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors. In January 2009, Nasir al-Wahishi, leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen, announced that Yemeni and Saudi al Qaeda operatives had joined forces to form AQAP.

The threat posed by terrorists in Yemen prompted Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, to recently describe the country as “one of the foremost challenges” the U.S. faces.