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It is troubling to think of how many people al-Awlaki is reaching through the Internet. Terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann says that his lecture, “Constants on the Path of Jihad,” is the “virtual bible for lone-wolf terrorists.” He says that al-Awlaki and this sermon appear “to surface in every single homegrown terrorism investigation, whether in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, or beyond.” His reach is extremely far, with even groups criticized by Al-Qaeda like Hizb ut-Tahrir linking to his sermons. The FBI has found that his sermons are still widely available in prison libraries, and Britain’s Islam Channel removed links to his sermons after the press reported on it.
A British government study found 1,910 videos of him and his material appear on YouTube, with a single one being watched 164,420 times. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, which al-Awlaki serves with, will soon publish its first online English magazine called “Inspire” with a guest column by al-Awlaki.
This presence is allowing al-Awlaki to become frighteningly proficient in recruiting Westerners who are less likely to be detected. A Senate report says that up to three dozen Americans who have served prison time, described as “blond-haired, blue eyed-types” by one official, are now in Yemen and are suspected of being recruited by Al-Qaeda’s branch there. At least two females connected to this group have been trained, may have Western passports, and could be sent from Yemen to carry out suicide bombings. British intelligence is warning about al-Awlaki’s influence on Muslim youth, with at least one offering to become a suicide bomber after communicating with him.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told FrontPage that although Al-Awlaki’s prestige is increasing, is it a stretch to put him on Bin Laden’s level yet.
“He is also highly significant for English-speaking salafi jihadis. But al-Qaeda’s organization and operations are far more than just the outputs that we see making their way to the U.S., and the organization’s major strength does not come from its English-speaking contingent,” he said.
“Awlaki is a significant figure, but I don’t think the claim that he has eclipsed bin Laden (or even Abu Yahya al-Libi) is sustainable.”
Gartenstein-Ross, though, does not dismiss the deadly capability al-Awlaki possesses.
“Awlaki’s combination of perfect English, religious credibility (despite his lack of formal training), and jihadi message makes him a very significant figure, both in terms of radicalizing people and also operationally. The threat he poses is clearly indicated by the number of terrorist plots to which he is connected,” he said.
President Obama has wisely authorized the assassination of al-Awlaki despite his status as an American citizen. This unprecedented measure would not have been necessary had he not been released by the Yemeni authorities in 2006 and if they were fully committed to fighting radical Islam. Al-Awlaki’s tribal ties have proven to be an important asset. The closest he has come to death was in December when an airstrike targeted a meeting in Yemen he was believed to be attending. He says that he learned he was being tracked from the Washington Post which prompted him to change his location, saving his life.
“Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea,” al-Awlaki has boasted. After 9/11, the world was shocked at Bin Laden’s ability to carry out a spectacular attack on the U.S. despite the efforts to capture or kill him. Hopefully, we won’t have to express the same shock about al-Awlaki.
This article was sponsored by Stand Up America.
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