Al Qaeda Propagandist Killed During US Drone Strike

Monday, October 10, 2011
Samir Khan, in Charlotte, NC in 2008 (courtesy Associated Press)

As someone who works in an intelligence-related profession, I have been trained not to talk about such subjects in a public forum.  When I first heard about the recent news concerning the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Islamic cleric who reportedly motivated militant Muslims to commit acts of terrorism against the United States, I had mixed feelings.  While the mission was a success (via the current campaign of using unmanned technology to undertake tasks considered extremely hazardous for humans), not bringing al-Awlaki to court to demonstrate America's adherence to the rule of law will make him a martyr in the eyes of his followers and does damage to our nation's image on the world stage.  This would be a good topic for an opinion piece pitting civil liberties against national security and I am not ready to post my personal positions here just yet.

The part of this story that caught my attention as a journalism student was the collateral death of another American in that Yemen drone strike.  Samir Khan, a 25-year old Saudi-born Pakistani-American jihadist who was believed to be the creative force behind Inspire, a English-language online propaganda magazine of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terrorist organization, was traveling with al-Awlaki when the attack occurred.  A tech- and Internet-savvy student while attending classes at a Charlotte, North Carolina community college, Khan left the United States for Yemen in early 2009 to lend his 21st century talents to AQAP's media arm.

During his time with the magazine, Khan helped produce seven editions that served to promote the personal beliefs of al-Awlaki as well as the larger al Qaeda movement and to foment 'homegrown' terrorism initiatives in the United States and other western nations (British police reportedly found copies of the periodical in the apartments of bomb plot suspects).  Its most recent offering celebrated the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, DC and went as far to to admonish Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for trying to connect them to an American government conspiracy.

In that same volume, Khan wrote a piece called "The Media Conflict" where he details how AQAP attained 'legitimacy' in their struggle against America.  He cites a strict focus on their media efforts (quality/content, online security and a strategy for disseminating their message), America's failure to respond in a 'scholarly' way to the terrorist organization, blunders in treating the greater Muslim community (torturing detainees, right-wing 'blasphemy' against Islam) and inciting distrust in democracy throughout the Muslim world. 

In the final paragraph, he predicts that this battle between America and Islam "is going to continue until they find themselves powerless under our dominion."  Coincidently, near the back page of the issue, there is a 'teaser' for a future article by al-Awlaki addressing his group's targeting of countries where their populations are at war with the Muslims.  The September 30th drone attack guarantees that any new articles by these two will have to be submitted posthumously.

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