“This is a great day for America, this is probably the second biggest blow to al-Qaeda since the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Ruppersberger said.
“Anwar al-Aulaqi was dangerous. He was the biggest threat, in my opinion, from a terrorism point of view, to the United States of America and to our citizens.”
Ruppersberger was among a small group of lawmakers that oversees U.S. intelligence agencies who traveled to Yemen two months ago to urge cooperation between the two countries in hunting down al-Aulaqi.
“He was a charismatic leader who inspired people to kill Americans. He now has been taken off the battlefield,” Ruppersberger added.
“I said it after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and I’ll say it again now: If you are going to kill Americans, we will find you and we will bring you to justice. That’s what happened here today.”
A member of the so-called Gang of Eight, privy to the most classified intelligence shared with Congress, Ruppersberger had been notified in advance of the raid that killed bin Laden. But he suggested he had been surprised Friday morning by the news of the successful strike against al-Aulaqi (whose name is also often spelled al-Awlaki.) Ruppersberger was preparing to leave to visit his granddaughter in Virginia when he learned of the strike and returned to Washington for a briefing by the CIA.
Ruppersberger characterized the killing of a second U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, as “collateral damage,” because he said U.S. forces were not initially aware that Khan would be traveling with al-Aulaqi. However, Ruppersberger added that it was “a plus” for the U.S. because the purpose of Khan’s Internet magazine, Inspire, was to “recruit individuals who wished to attack America.”
Ruppersberger also said he has no qualms with the targeted or collateral killing of either American, saying the secretive process involving the National Security Council used to identify and authorize individuals for targeting attacks was followed completely.
“It’s legal, it’s legitimate, and we’re taking out someone who has attempted to attack us on numerous occasions,” Ruppersberger said of al-Aulaqi. “He recruited expert bomb makers, he was the brains and the leader behind the failed attack in New York, the shoe bomber, and just recently, the airliner that was supposed to attack Detroit.”
Ruppersberger, whose district along the I-95 corridor in Maryland includes the headquarters of the National Security Agency and others in the intelligence community, said U.S. intelligence analysts and operatives deserve a lot of credit.
“I can’t say enough about the intelligence community and how far they’ve come since 9/11.”