Though he was killed in a CIA drone strike last week, Anwar al-Awlaki may have a post-mortem message for his followers.
Just three days before the drone attack, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a copy of its online magazine with a full-page promotion for an article by Awlaki coming in a future issue.
The forthcoming piece is titled “Targeting the populations of countries that are at war with the Muslims.” Awlaki’s name and “coming soon” appear in white letters over a blurry photograph of the interior of Grand Central Station in New York.
The glossy page and menacing message are classic Awlaki, a reminder that the New Mexico native first came to the attention of U.S. counter-terrorism officials because of his ability to appeal to Western audiences with polished propaganda.
The Obama administration emphasized Awlaki’s increasingly operational role in making the case for ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen. But his ability to reach and radicalize followers was seen by many in the counter-terrorism community as an equally worrisome threat.
“He’s a two-fer,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution. “He inspired Fort Hood and planned Christmas Day: That’s why he was so dangerous.”
Riedel was referring to Awlaki’s e-mail correspondence with alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan, as well as his alleged role in planning AQAP’s attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009.
The next issue of Inspire would ordinarily be expected to surface in November or December. Even if Awlaki finished the article before his death, its publication is now in doubt.
Samir Khan, another American who was killed in last week’s strike, functioned as editor and publisher of Inspire. It’s not clear whether Khan had enough support staff to carry on.