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UPDATE: It looks like Awlaki wasn’t the only infamous American jihadi killed in Friday’s drone strikes.
ABC News reports that 25-year-old Samir Khan, editor of the al-Qaida magazine Inspire, is dead too. Like Awlaki, he was a U.S. citizen. Unlike Awlaki, he wasn’t the intended target of the strike, officials said.
Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Queens, New York, Khan was living with his middle-class parents in North Carolina as recently as four years ago, according to the New York Times.
He came to the attention of U.S. counterterrorism officials when he blogged from North Carolina in 2007 urging his fellow Americans to heed a recent videotaped message from Osama Bin Laden.
He moved to Yemen in 2009, where he worked with Awlaki and other members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to produce Inspire and recruit English-speaking Muslims to the cause. "I am proud to be a traitor," he declared in a 2010 issue of the magazine, according to ABC News. "I praise Allah and laugh at the intelligence agencies that were watching me for all those years," he added. "Back in North Carolina, the FBI dispatched a spy on me who pretended to convert to Islam." He also had an article in the magazine’s most recent issue, available as a PDF here.
POST at 10:01 a.m.: A U.S. drone strike has killed American-born jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, the country’s defense ministry told CNN.
The drone launched a Hellfire missile that hit the radical cleric’s motorcade as he was traveling between provinces in Yemen’s lawless northern region, near Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported. Several of Awlaki’s bodyguards were killed along with him.
It’s another big hit for President Obama’s campaign to take out top al-Qaida figures. The radical Muslim cleric was a highly visible figure in the terror group's offshoot known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which many analysts argue has become the network’s most dangerous affiliate. He has been linked personally to some of the highest-profile terrorist plots in the U.S. in recent years, including the Ft. Hood shooting, the "underwear bomber" attempt in 2009, and the Times Square car bomb in 2010.
While Awlaki wasn’t the leader of AQAP, his American upbringing and English-language skills made him perhaps the organization’s most influential pitch-man among American Muslims. Inspire magazine, a recruiting tool for al-Qaida in the West, was thought to be his brainchild.
Still, his killing comes with some controversy. He was a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents in 1971. He was raised in the U.S. and Yemen and studied at Colorado State University, San Diego State, and George Washington University before becoming a cleric in San Diego and then Falls Church, Va. In 2010, Obama made him the first American on the CIA’s list of targets for assassination, a move that worried some legal experts and civil liberties groups. He was never formally charged with a crime.
Awlaki was also wanted by the Yemeni government, which WikiLeaks cables revealed had supported covert U.S. drone strikes within its borders. But much of the country is ruled by tribes, not the central government, and Awlaki was never arrested. Shortly after Osama Bin Laden was killed this year, a U.S. attempt on Awlaki just missed.