Source: AFP, By Andrew Beatty, 17/07/2010
WASHINGTON — The US government on Friday slapped sanctions on American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, accusing him of helping to plan the failed bombing of a US passenger plane on Christmas Day.
The Treasury Department froze the assets of Awlaqi, a dual national wanted for his part in the plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane bound for Detroit, Michigan last year with 290 people on board.
The US-born cleric is currently thought to be in hiding in Yemen.
The Treasury sanctions include a freeze on Awlaqi's US-held assets and a ban any American from engaging in transactions with him, in an attempt to squeeze his financial support.
"Anwar al-Awlaqi has proven that he is extraordinarily dangerous, committed to carrying out deadly attacks on Americans and others worldwide," said Stuart Levey, the head of Treasury's sanctions department.
Levey said the New Mexico-born cleric "plays a major role in setting the strategic direction" of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
President Barack Obama's administration has authorized the targeted killing of Awlaqi, a rare move against an American citizen.
The order was approved after US intelligence agencies concluded that the cleric was now directly involved in plots against the United States, and not merely publicly encouraging such attacks.
The cleric, aged 39, has backed the targeting of American civilians and in Internet videos has urged Muslims to follow the example of Major Nidal Hassan, a US army psychiatrist accused of fatally gunning down 13 colleagues during a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November.
But, according to the Treasury, "since late 2009, Awlaqi has taken on an increasingly operational role in Al-Qaeda.
"He has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism -- fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents," said Levey.
"Awlaqi has also recruited individuals to join AQAP, facilitated training at camps in Yemen in support of acts of terrorism, and helped focus AQAP's attention on planning attacks on US interests.
He is specifically accused of helping prepare Nigerian man Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to carry out the failed the Christmas Day plot.
Abdulmutallab faces trial for trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear as the plane approached Detroit on December 25. He pleaded not guilty in January to six terrorism-related charges, including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera earlier this year Awlaqi claimed that Abdulmutallab was his "student," but said that he did not direct the young Nigerian to launch the attack.
Awlaqi is now reported to be in the remote mountainous Shabwah region of Yemen.
He was imprisoned in Yemen in 2006 on charges of being involved in an Al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a US official but was released in December 2007 and went into hiding, according to the Treasury.
The cleric is thought to be one of dozens of Al-Qaeda operatives targeted in an air raid on Wadi Rafadh, 650 kilometers (400 miles) east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, in December last year, in which 34 people were killed