Al-Qaida's Americans Were Link To The West Friday's drone strike in Yemen eliminated two Americans who have played a key role in the development of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were, above all else, the group's bridge to the West. The group is largely made up of Yemenis and Saudis who have hardly stepped foot out of the Middle East. That made Awlaki and Khan unique. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.
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Al-Qaida's Americans Were Link To The West

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Al-Qaida's Americans Were Link To The West

Al-Qaida's Americans Were Link To The West

Al-Qaida's Americans Were Link To The West

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140988887/140988922" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Friday's drone strike in Yemen eliminated two Americans who have played a key role in the development of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were, above all else, the group's bridge to the West. The group is largely made up of Yemenis and Saudis who have hardly stepped foot out of the Middle East. That made Awlaki and Khan unique. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

Here's Awlaki delivering his message a couple of years ago.

ANWAR AL: To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful co-existence with the nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters?

CORNISH: Hi there, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE: Hi, there. Good morning.

CORNISH: So talk to us a little bit about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Anwar al-Awlaki's role within the group.

TEMPLE: But when this more robust organization came about, the group started looking at playing a role in the global jihad. And that's when Anwar al-Awlaki began to take on a new importance for the group. Embarking on a global jihad played right into his strengths because Awlaki had been out in the world. He'd lived in the U.S., he spent time in Europe. So he provided an expertise that other members of this group, AQAP, just didn't have.

CORNISH: And is this, the expertise, just meaning his very specific understanding about the target, the U.S.?

TEMPLE: And that ability to actually move people and attract people is what worried law enforcement in the U.S. so much about Awlaki.

CORNISH: And I get the sense that over the years we've heard more and more from anti-terror experts about the issue of lone wolves; that this character had the potential to move individuals, just from his speeches and the Internet.

TEMPLE: Law enforcement will tell you that he wasn't even on their radar screen until after the failed attack. And Faisal Shahzad told the FBI that the two things that inspired him to strike out against the United States was, oh, what he saw as the injustices of the drone program in Pakistan, and the inspirational speeches of Anwar al-Awlaki.

CORNISH: Let's talk a little bit more actually about Samir Khan. This was the young American who was killed riding in the same car with Awlaki last week

TEMPLE: And he was really into desktop publishing and webzines. That's how Inspire magazine, this English-language webzine happened - it was Samir Khan's brainchild.

CORNISH: And what made Inspire magazine so special? I can imagine there're all kinds of blogs and websites online devoted to this kind of thing.

TEMPLE: And the way I've talked about it is that it's like a Cosmo magazine for Jihadis.

CORNISH: And the latest issue had just come out last week, right?

TEMPLE: That's right. That was the seventh issue, and presumably the last issue. And it had a lead article by Samir Khan about "Online Jihad and Media Wars." I mean he talks about how the Western media just doesn't understand how to reach out to young Muslims the way he does. And he said that al-Qaida was able to win the media war because its media operatives were so technologically savvy. And just days later, two of al-Qaida's most technologically savvy guys are killed.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE: You're so welcome.

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