“AQAP has lost its ideological leader, which is a huge blow,” a former intelligence official who has tracked al-Awlaki for years told Fox News.Al-Awlaki was a U.S.-born Islamic militant cleric who became a prominent figure with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the network’s most active branch. He was involved in several terror plots in the United States in recent years, using his fluent English and Internet savvy to draw recruits to carry out attacks. President Obama signed an order in early 2010 making him the first American to be placed on the “kill or capture” list.The Yemeni government and Defense Ministry announced al-Awlaki’s death, without giving details. But American sources confirmed the CIA and U.S. military were behind the strike on al-Awlaki, whom one official described as a “big fish.”The strike hit a vehicle with three or four suspected Al Qaeda members inside, in addition to al-Awlaki. According to a U.S. senior official, the other American militant killed in the strike was Samir Khan, the co-editor of an English-language Al Qaeda web magazine called “Inspire.”Kahn, in his 20s, was an American of Pakistani heritage from North Carolina. His magazine promoted attacks against U.S. targets, even running articles on how to put together explosives. In one issue, Khan wrote that he had moved to Yemen and joined Al Qaeda’s fighters, pledging to “wage jihad for the rest of our lives.”The strike comes after a heavy presence of U.S. drones was spotted in the skies over the region over the last couple weeks, one source told Fox News.The strike underscores the expanding nature of the drone program, which has migrated beyond the borders of Pakistan into Yemen, Somalia and other countries.Yemeni security officials and local tribal leaders also said al-Awlaki was killed in an air strike on his convoy that they believed was carried out by the Americans.Al-Awlaki would be the most prominent Al Qaeda figure to be killed since bin Laden’s death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May. In July, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Yemeni-American was a priority target alongside Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s successor as the terror network’s leader.The 40-year-old al-Awlaki had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Obama in April 2010 — making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn’t harmed. In May, U.S. forces were able to track his truck but were unable to take him out.Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, was believed to be key in turning Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen into what American officials have called the most significant and immediate threat to the United States. The branch, led by a Yemeni militant named Nasser al-Wahishi, plotted several failed attacks on U.S. soil — the botched Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up an American airliner heading to Detroit and a foiled 2010 attempt to send explosives to Chicago.
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