The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen.
The young Awlaki was the third American killed in Yemen in as many weeks. Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from North Carolina, died alongside Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemeni officials said the dead from the strike included Ibrahim al-Banna, the Egyptian media chief for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, and also a brother of Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda operative who was indicted in New York in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden.
The strike occurred near the town of Azzan, an Islamist stronghold. The Defense Ministry in Yemen described Banna as one of the “most dangerous operatives” in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often referred to by the acronym AQAP.
U.S. officials said they were still assessing the results of the strike Monday evening to determine who was killed. The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was, but typically the CIA and the Pentagon focus on senior figures in al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.
“We have seen press reports that AQAP senior official Ibrahim al-Banna was killed last Friday in Yemen and that several others, including the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, were with al-Banna at the time,” said Thomas F. Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “For over the past year, the Department of State has publicly urged U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen and has encouraged those already in Yemen to leave because of the continuing threat of violence and the presence of terrorist organizations, including AQAP, throughout the country.”
A senior congressional official who is familiar with U.S. operations in Yemen and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy issues said, “If they knew a 16-year-old was there, I think that would be cause for them to say: ‘Gee, we ought not to hit this guy. That would be considered collateral damage.’ ”
The official said that the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command are expected to ensure that women and children are not killed in airstrikes in Pakistan and Yemen but that sometimes it might not be possible to distinguish a teenager from militants.
Nasser al-Awlaki said he was told by people in the area where the airstrike occurred that the two teenagers were about to have a meal with a small group of men when they were hit. He said he did not know who else was in the group but was told that they were mostly young people.