The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda’s best-known mouthpiece and most charismatic spiritual leader, will leave a huge hole that the global terrorist network may find impossible to fill, regional and counterterrorism experts say.
“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] is still a huge threat, still the No. 1 threat” among the terrorist network’s global affiliates, said Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment think tank. “But the threat against the West is not as great as it was last week.”
He said it was al-Awlaki’s ability to reach out to vulnerable communities and individuals in the West and “recruit and influence people who were under the radar of intelligence and law enforcement” agencies that made him such a threat.
“That will be hard to replace,” said Mr. Boucek, who researches security challenges in the Arabian Peninsula.
“He was a powerful and convincing orator” in his native English and in Arabic.
Al-Awlaki “was one of the first of the contemporary terrorist leaders to make the transition from cleric to propagandist to a key operational role,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. “Like [Osama] bin Laden, it is unclear whether Awlaki’s remarkable trajectory in this respect can be duplicated.”
Mr. Boucek noted that Yemeni officials believe AQAP’s top bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, was not among the dead in the missile strikes by U.S. drones Friday that killed al-Awlaki, contrary to reports over the weekend.
Al-Asiri, a 29-year-old Saudi, is thought to have made the devices used in:
• The air-cargo bomb plot last year, in which explosives were hidden in printer cartridges and shipped to the United States by FedEx.
• The underwear-bomb plot against a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day in 2009.
“He is the most dangerous man in AQAP,” Mr. Boucek said of al-Asiri. “It is scary to think about someone with those [bomb-making] skills, and even scarier to think about who he might be passing them on to.”
He said the remaining leadership of AQAP, including al-Asiri and the group’s supreme commander, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, “are also very focused on [attacking] the West.”
“There are five or six Saudis who were at [the U.S. military detention center at] Guantanamo Bay” in the AQAP leadership, Mr. Boucek said. “They have a huge grudge against the United States.”View Entire Story
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