U.S.-born al-Qaeda extremist Anwar al-Awlaki has for years served as a radicalizing figure for U.S. and European extremists. On September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted and killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Nonetheless, his lectures online have continued to inspire Westerners to terror, both before and after his death.
In the Counter Extremism Project’s online resource, Anwar al-Awlaki’s Ties to Extremists, CEP has counted 99 extremists—56 U.S. extremists and 43 European extremists—with ties to Anwar al-Awlaki. Profiles of these individuals—including details on the individuals’ ties to Anwar al-Awlaki—are included here. Click on the thumbnails below to learn more.
U.S. Homegrown Radicals with Ties to Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki served as director of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He was the first U.S. citizen targeted in a U.S. drone strike (September 30, 2011) due to his role in taking the “lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans,” according to President Barack Obama.
Awlaki has inspired numerous homegrown extremists to commit acts of terror. Omar Mateen—perpetrator of the deadliest gun attack on U.S. soil—had watched Anwar al-Awlaki videos, according to one witness in a July 2014 FBI investigation. Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2, 2015, San Bernardino massacre that killed 14, had reportedly spent hours alongside neighbor Enrique Marquez listening to Awlaki’s lectures and poring over directions on making explosives. Awlaki was in close contact with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (2009), underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (2009), and thwarted suicide bomber Minh Quang Pham (2012). Awlaki has reportedly inspired Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (2010) as well as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon bombings (2013), New York/New Jersey bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami (2016) and Ohio State attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan (2016).
Among its profiles of Americans arrested for attempting to join jihadist groups or carry out domestic attacks, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has documented 56 cases in which Awlaki’s radicalizing influence was a key factor. He has also inspired countless others around the world via his online materials to join al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and ISIS. Even after his death, Awlaki’s ideology and lectures continue to influence, propagandize, and incite to violence.
European Extremists with Ties to Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki’s influence has not been confined to the United States. Across Europe, Awlaki has inspired numerous extremists to commit acts of terror in their own countries and wage jihad overseas, including Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who was charged on terrorism-related crimes for his alleged role in the March 22, 2016, ISIS attacks in Brussels, which killed 32 people and wounded more than 200 others. Usman Khan, who killed two and wounded three others in a November 29, 2019, attack on the London Bridge, also radicalized watching Awlaki’s videos.
The notorious British Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary eulogized Awlaki upon his death in 2011. Cherif Kouachi, one of the shooters in the January 2015 attack on the Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, trained with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after Awlaki financed his trip to Yemen. Sally Jones—the wife of deceased ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain—released on Twitter the personal information of the drone operator who killed Awlaki. Jihadist brothers Yassin and Mounir Chouka, both German citizens, met with Awlaki in Yemen before being advised by the AQAP propagandist to join the jihad along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.
Among its profiles of Europeans arrested or killed in the pursuit of jihad—either within Europe or in the Middle East—CEP has documented 43 cases in which al-Awlaki served as a radicalizing guide. Even in death, al-Awlaki’s call to holy war still finds an active following beyond U.S. shores.