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Britisk og amerikansk etterretning mener den jemenittisk-amerikanske predikanten Anwar al-Awlaki er blitt en like stor trussel om Osama bin Laden. Det er ikke det terrorangrep som ikke al-Awlaki har hatt en finger med i, på en eller annen måte. Han har en stor fordel ved å kjenne amerikansk språk og kultur. Det gjør at han kan snakke til muslimer over hele verden på fiendens språk, som de forstår.

Så paradoksal er dagens globaliserte verden. Engelsk er denne verdens lingua franca og al-Awlaki benytter sin kjennskap til amerikansk kultur til å komme i kontakt og formidle sitt budskap. Slik reflekterer han og appellerer til muslimenes ambivalente forhold til Vesten.

Det er denne fortrolighet med vestlig kultur som gjør etterretningstjenestene bekymret. Al-Awlaki har en appell til rotløse, søkende muslimer. Han benytter youtube for alt det er verdt. Han leser fra de arabiske grunntekstene, hvilket mange muslimer ikke kan, og oversetter til engelsk. Det ligger 1.900 slike videoer ute på nettet. Det sier litt om etterspørselen.

Mange av de arabiske soldatene for Al Qaida har nå forflyttet seg fra grenseområdet i Pakistan til Jemen og Somalia. Dit reiser rekrutter fra diasporaen i Europa og USA.

Det er ikke lenger de store konspirasjoner som e-tjeneste frykter, men enslige muslimer som selvradikaliseres, alene, eller i en liten gruppe. Det viser seg at denne prosessen kan gå uhyre fort, og er vanskelig å fange opp for myndighetene. Al-Awlaki henvender seg nettopp til slike unge, og ber dem angripe Vesten, med de midler og mål de måtte ha tilgang til. Dette gjør al-Awlaki farligere enn bin Laden som har gått etter de spektakulære mål.

Al-Awlaki har hatt kontakt med slike loner-terrorister: Nidal Malik Hassan, som skjøt 13 medsoldater på Fort Hood-basen, og nigerianske Umar Abdulmutallab som prøvde å sprenge et fly over Detroit første juledag.

Denne direkte påvirkning har gjort at al-Awlaki er satt på en liste over folk som skal elimineres. Han er for farlig. Han planlegger og oppfordrer til angrep på vestlige mål.

Men dette er ikke American Civil Liberties Union enig i. De etterlyser lovligheten i å sette en amerikaner på en dødsliste, og har anlagt sak.

Det sier noe om splittelsen i vestlige land ni år etter 9/11. Det er ingen tvil om at al-Awlaki oppfordrer til terror mot Vesten, men ACLU setter spørsmålstegn ved lovligheten av å ta livet av ham.

Terror er asymmetrisk krig: al-Awlaki oppfordrer sivile muslimer til å angripe sivile mål der de måtte leve. Det er en trussel det er uhyre vanskelig å beskytte seg mot. Det er også vanskelig å bevise i streng juridisk forstand at al-Awlakis taler har inspirert unge jihadister til aksjon. Al-Awlaki var i direkte kontakt med Nidal Malik Hassan, men kanskje han unngår morderiske oppfordringer i den åpne kommunikasjonen. Hvordan ville en dommer vurdere slike bevis? Slik kan en liberal fortolkning brukes til å sabotere krigen mot terror: myndighetene kan ikke ramme predikanten som oppfordrer til drap på sivile, men predikanten kan fra sitt trygge tilholdssted fortsette å publisere videoer hvor han oppfordrer til terror. I sin ytterste konsekvens kan ACLU hevde at det er en del av ytringsfriheten. Man må bevise konkret i hvert enkelt tilfelle at al-Awlaki har hatt en direkte påvirkning. Generelle oppfordringer holder ikke. Eller: det er dette de vil at en domstol skal vurdere.

Men al-Awlaki har også vært direkte innblandet. Han har gått fra å være predikant på nettet, til å være organisator.

in a rare speech on Thursday, Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, name-checked Awlaki as the West’s Public Enemy No 1.
“The operational involvement of Yemen-based preacher Anwar al-Awlaki with al-Qaeda is of particular concern given his wide circle of adherents in the West, including in the UK,” said Evans.

Awlaki has been on Western intelligence’s radar for some years, as his connections with terrorist plotters, including the September 11 hijackers and the July 7 London bombers, gradually became apparent.
Far from emerging like an Old Testament prophet from the mountains of Arabia, Awlaki is an American citizen. He was born, somewhat incongruously, given his brand of radical Islam, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His father, a Yemeni, moved there in 1971 with his wife to attend the state university where he received a master’s degree in agricultural economics. In 1978, when Awlaki was seven, the family moved back to Yemen where his father served as agriculture minister. Aged 20, Awlaki returned to the US in 1991 where he studied civil engineering at Colorado State University. He later lived in San Diego, where he obtained an MA in education, and then studied for a doctorate in Washington.
During this period, though not an Islamic scholar nor a trained imam, Awlaki began to take a greater interest in religion and politics, possibly linked to a trip to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation. He began to acquire a reputation as a firebrand preacher at various mosques, though his devout image was sullied by several arrests for soliciting prostitutes.
Increasingly, he came under the influence of radical Islamists, notably the Yemeni, Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, an ally of Osama bin Laden. He allegedly worked for a charitable organisation that the FBI believed was a front for funneling money to terrorists. Some of the September 11 hijackers reportedly respected Awlaki as a religious figure and two of the hijackers who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon building attended a mosque where he preached.
His apparent connection to the September 11 attacks was one of many embarrassments for the FBI. Awlaki was under investigation in 1999, but the agency concluded he was not a danger and shut down the operation a year later. After the September 11 attacks, the FBI interviewed Awlaki four times, and one detective told the 9/11 Commission that he believed he “was at the centre of the 9/11 story”. It is believed that he kept the hijackers “spiritually focused”.
Despite the FBI’s suspicions, Awlaki was able to return to Yemen in 2002. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he later turned up in London, where he stayed for two years, speaking at conferences hosted by British Muslim organisations. However, he did not come to MI5’s notice until after he returned to Yemen in 2004. It was about then that Awlaki made the transition from preacher to operational terrorist mastermind, using his charismatic appeal and jihadi rhetoric to fire up potential recruits.
He speaks perfect English, unlike many al-Qaeda leaders, which gives him a broader appeal. He also encourages his followers to think about mounting small-scale attacks that can cause widespread fear without always trying to stage a September 11-style “spectacular” which risks alerting the authorities.
As Evans said: “His influence is all the wider because he preaches and teaches in the English language, which makes his message easier to access and understand for Western audiences. There is a real risk that one of his adherents will respond to his urging to violence and mount an attack in the UK, possibly acting alone and with little formal training.”
Awlaki is best known for “Constants on the Path of Jihad”, a series of lectures available on popular internet forums, such as YouTube, where he has 1,900 videos. He reads the Arabic text and translates what he has read into English, offering his commentary on what the text means for Muslims. He maintains that violent jihad is an obligation for every Muslim. His lectures have been found in possession of almost every radical Islamist who has executed, or attempted to execute, attacks on Western targets.
They include the July 7 bombers in London, who used to meet in a bookshop that sold lectures by Awlaki. Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas last November, had asked for Awlaki’s advice in emails about a suicide attack. There is evidence that he had direct contact with the Canadian-based terrorists known as the Toronto 18 and court records show that three out of the five men convicted for plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, were inspired by Awlaki’s lectures and believed they contained a fatwa to strike in the US.

At al-Awlaki havnet i amerikanernes søkelys etter 9/11, men fikk lov å reise fra USA og kunne bo to år i London, sier en del om hvor tafatt Vestens kamp mot ekstremismen har vært.

Anwar al Awlaki: the new Osama bin Laden?
Anwar al Awlaki, a preacher broadcasting his Islamist ideology in sermons on the internet, is a clear and present danger, says Philip Johnston.