Sana’a – A US-born radical cleric is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts, friends and relatives said Friday.
The government said it targeted a meeting of high-level Al-Qaeda operatives in Thursday’s airstrike in the remote Shabwa region.
It claimed at least 30 militants were killed, possibly including Anwar Al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who has been linked to the shooter in last month’s attack at the Fort Hood military base in the US. In addition to Al-Awlaki, the top leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (in Saudi Arabia and Yemen), Nasser Abdulkarim Al-Wahishi, and his Saudi deputy Saeed Al-Shehri were also believed to have survived the airstrike, according to the chief of Al-Awlaki tribe, Fareed Abu Bakr Al-Awlaki.
At least seven Saudis along with some other foreign fighters were injured in the attack, Fareed Al-Awlaki said.
On Friday, a friend of the cleric, Abu Bakr Al-Awlaki, told the AP that he was not among those killed. He refused to say if the cleric was attending the meeting. Abu Bakr Al-Awlaki was in Shabwa and in contact with the gunmen in control of the area following the strike.
He is not related to the cleric, but the two are from the same tribe and carry the same last name. Thursday’s airstrikes were the second in a week against Al-Qaeda.
The newly aggressive Yemeni campaign, backed by American aid, reflects Washington’s fears that the terror network could turn this fragmented, unstable nation into an Afghanistan-like refuge in a highly strategic location on the border with Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni government said it struck a gathering of senior Al-Qaeda figures in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa province, where they were plotting new terror attacks.
But Yemeni officials still have no access to the area, which is controlled by armed gunmen and supporters of Al-Qaeda, and could not confirm for certain who was killed in the attack.
In Washington, a US government official who was briefed on the strike told The Associated Press that there has been no confirmation yet of who was killed in the strike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the attack.
Al-Awlaki was born in the United States and moved back to Yemen in 2002. Al-Awlaki reportedly corresponded by e-mail with Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5.
People close to Al-Alwaki said it is unlikely the cleric would be sitting through a field meeting convened by fighters, considering he saw his role as a scholar and one that gives religious advises and rulings.
The cleric’s brother, who only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said he also received assurances that his older sibling is still alive.
A tribal chief in Shabwa, who only used his alias Abu Muhammed, said he was informed that Anwar Al-Alwaki was alive and is unharmed. He refused to elaborate.
So far, residents of the area and relatives of those killed say six bodies have been retrieved from the area of the strike and buried. The relatives spoke on condition of anonymity because they were still at the area controlled by the gunmen. – Okaz/SG/AP