The Obama Administration has authorised the targeted killing of an American citizen in what is believed to be an unprecedented move in the War against Terror.
According to US media reports, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to last November’s attack on Fort Hood, Texas, and the failed Christmas day airline bomb plot, has been approved for capture or killing.
Mr Awlaki, who is in hiding in Yemen, is understood to have moved from encouraging attacks on the United States to participating in them directly, The New York Times reports.
He has been directly linked to Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the US army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and to Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up a Detroit bound plane with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day.
American counter-terrorism officials told the newspaper that Mr Awlaki was an operative of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. He is also believed to actively recruit new members for the terror network.
Experts said that targeting him was was extremely rare, if not unprecedented. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush told The New York Times he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.
But the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, told a House of Representatives hearing in February that such a step was possible, without naming Mr Awlaki as a possible target. “We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”