Radical Yemeni cleric the new bin Laden?


SAN’A, Yemen | In his online lectures, Anwar al-Awlaki looks like a passionate professor. His arguments are thoughtful and well-researched, and his voice is steady and clear. Videos of his speeches have gone viral, receiving hundreds of thousands of hits, and his words resonate deeply with disaffected young Muslims, angered by what they see as Western attacks on Islam.

“We are fighting for truth and justice, and you are fighting for oppression,” he said in a March video calling for young American Muslims to wage a “holy war” against the U.S. Many YouTube users responded with blessings, thanks and vows to join the jihad.

Terrorism specialists say Mr. al-Awlaki could be more influential than Osama bin Laden, especially among potential radicals within the U.S. Last week, Mr. al-Awlaki, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen, reportedly was put on a CIA hit list.

Here in Yemen’s capital, the cleric already seems like a ghost. Imams who preached with him in the mid-2000s say they now fear acknowledging that they even know him. Many people, including high-ranking officials, said they heard his name for the first time after he made headlines for supporting the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings.

In a cobblestone market in San’a’s medieval Old City, a young man in white thobe, with an ornate traditional jambiya knife in his belt, said he knew Mr. al-Awlaki for two years when they both were local preachers.

Khaled said he didn’t want to talk about the accusations against his former colleague, lest he be considered a terrorist, too. During his San’a days, Mr. al-Awlaki was quiet and helpful with a wide knowledge of Islam, said Khaled, who gave only his first name for security reasons. Mr. al-Awlaki was somewhat anti-social, he said, but otherwise seemed like a kind and peaceful man. “I don’t know why they want to accuse him as a terrorist,” he said.

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