Airstrike on car (illustrative)
Airstrike on car (illustrative)Flash 90

United States troops have killed senior Al-Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in an airstrike in northern Yemen. American-born Awlaki was considered the “chief of external operations” for Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

He was also believed to have been involved in the mass shooting at an army base in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, and in planning an attempted bombing of an airplane.

Also reported dead in the strike was a second Al-Qaeda terrorist, Samir Khan. Like Awlaki, Khan had lived in the U.S., spoke fluent English, and was heavily involved in attempts to recruit Americans to the terrorist cause and to push them to commit “lone wolf” attacks.

The strike in which the two were killed was carried out by Predator drones using Hellfire missiles. The mission was overseen by the CIA and America’s Joint Special Operations Command.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised the assassination as “another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda.”

Controversy: Was Strike Legal?
Some civil rights groups criticized the strike as illegal. Awlaki was an American citizen, and as such, was protected by U.S. law from being put to death without trial, they said.

Similar arguments were made by presidential candidate Ron Paul.

According to a report published Friday by the Washington Post, Awlaki’s assassination was approved by the Justice Department in a secret memorandum.

“As a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress in its use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense,” the paper quoted an official in the Obama administration as saying.

NYPD on Alert
New York City police are on alert following the assassination due to concerns over the possibility of revenge attacks. “We know al-Awlaki had followers in the United States including New York City,” explained police commissioner Ray Kelly.