Gregory Johnsen: A False Target in Yemen





[Gregory Johnsen is a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton and writes the blog Waq al-Waq.]

...[Anwar al-Awlaki] is far from the terrorist kingpin that the West has made him out to be. In fact, he isn’t even the head of his own organization, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That would be Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who was Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary for four years in Afghanistan.

Nor is Mr. Awlaki the deputy commander, a position held by Said Ali al-Shihri, a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay who was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and put in a “terrorist rehabilitation” program. (The treatment, clearly, did not take.)

Mr. Awlaki isn’t the group’s top religious scholar (Adil al-Abab), its chief of military operations (Qassim al-Raymi), its bomb maker (Ibrahim Hassan Asiri) or even its leading ideologue (Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaysh).

Rather, he is a midlevel religious functionary who happens to have American citizenship and speak English. This makes him a propaganda threat, but not one whose elimination would do anything to limit the reach of the Qaeda branch....


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