Yemen refuses to let U.S. try cleric

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Yemen’s government has announced it will not extradite Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born jihadist cleric who is credited with inspiring the recent wave of anti-American terrorist plots by al Qaeda recruits.

Over the weekend, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Qirbi said Mr. al-Awlaki would be tried in the Arabian Peninsula state once he is captured.

“The man the U.S. wants to be extradited will stand trial in Yemen under the national law,” Mr. al Qirbi was quoted as saying in the Yemen state news agency, al Saba.

Earlier in the weekend, Mr. al Qirbi told the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Dar that “because of his recent terrorist activity, al-Awlaki is now wanted by the Yemeni government. Hence, he must be tried … in his homeland, but never by other governments.”

Mr. al-Awlaki, who is both a Yemeni and U.S. citizen, is considered a high-value target in President Obama’s war on al Qaeda. Earlier this year, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the United States could, under special circumstances, order a lethal attack on U.S. citizens who join al Qaeda.

On Christmas Eve, the United States launched an armed drone attack on a compound in Yemen where Mr. al-Awlaki was thought to be staying. The attack missed him.

Mr. al-Awlaki is the spiritual leader of the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. The group is thought to have several thousand armed followers and operates in areas of Yemen that are not under the full control of the San’a government.

Andy Johnson, a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview that Mr. al-Awlaki is like Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, because of his success in radicalizing recruits.

“Awlaki clearly is a driving force in the effort to recruit and radicalize people to carry out jihadist or extremist attacks,” said Mr. Johnson, who is now director of national security programs for the think tank Third Way.

Mr. al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was in e-mail contact with Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged in the killings of 13 people and woundings of 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5.

Mr. al-Awlaki also was involved in recruiting Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national who is charged in the Christmas Day attempt to detonate a bomb aboard a Northwest Airline flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Washington Times first reported in December that Mr. al-Awlaki personally “blessed” the operation.

Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square, reportedly told investigators that he was inspired by Mr. al-Awlaki’s online sermons on jihad.

Mr. al-Awlaki is widely credited with bringing al Qaeda’s narrative that the U.S. is at war with Islam to an English-speaking audience on the Internet.

A former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, said the United States lacked a formal extradition treaty with Yemen, and that it was against Yemeni law to extradite a Yemeni national to stand trial in a foreign country.

“There is a constitutional prohibition against turning over any Yemeni citizen to a foreign country,” said Ms. Bodine, who is now diplomat in residence at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. “Unless we want them to go against their constitution, they cannot do it.”

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