NOVEMBER 28, 2012
Former Muslim Cleric in Custody Multiple Times and Released Prior to Assassination
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has received documents from the U.S. State Department pertaining to the targeting and assassination of U.S. born terrorist Anwar al-Aulaqi by a U.S. drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011. In 2010, President Obama reportedly authorized the assassination of al-Aulaqi, the first American citizen added to the government’s “capture or kill” list, describing the radical Muslim cleric as “chief of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”
The Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice (DOJ) had previously determined that the targeting and killing of U.S. citizens overseas was legal under domestic and international law.
The heavily redacted documents received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Judicial Watch on September 30, 2011, confirm the killing of al-Aulaqi and show that the known terrorist had been in custody. The following are highlights from the records:
- The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, was asked on March 24, 2011, to issue a communication to al-Aulaqi, requesting him to “appear in person” to pick up an important letter at the post. The letter issued by the embassy, which included a partial address for al-Aulaqi, was a revocation of his passport: “The Department?s [sic] action is based upon a determination by the Secretary that Mr. al-Aulaqi [sic] activities abroad are causing and/or likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.” The embassy was instructed not to inform al-Aulaqi when he came to the embassy that the “important letter” was a passport revocation.
- The documents include two “Privacy Act Release Forms” issued by the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, signed by al-Aulaqi. One was dated November 14, 2006, and the other July 2, 2007 –which indicates that he was held for at least eight months. (Press reports had indicated that al-Aulaqi’s arrest was in relation to an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. government official.) The documents do not indicate how long al-Aulaqi was detained or why he was released.
- A September 30, 2011, email from Stephanie A. Bruce, Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to Elizabeth L. Perry, Team Lead for CA/OCS/ACS/NESCA at the State Department, included the following statement: “Elizabeth, I wanted to let you know that the Yemeni Defense Ministry reported that AMCIT Anwar al-AwLaki [sic] was killed in Yemen today.” Except for the added observation, “The statement is being cited in international and regional press reports,” the rest of the email is redacted.
- Documents from a related FOIA request that was submitted on October 26, 2011, include records concerning the death of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, Anwar al-Aulaqi’s son, who was killed on October 14, 2011. Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi’s death certificate was recorded on November 14, 2011. He is noted on the death certificate as being the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Aulaqi. The documents also include a “Report of Death of American Citizen Abroad” dated December 20, 2011. The cause of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi’s death on the form is “unknown.” Press reports indicate Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi was born in Denver, Colorado, was killed by a U.S. drone strike two weeks after his father was killed.
In addition to the arrest noted by the documents in 2006 and 2007, Anwar al-Aulaqi was detained at New York’s JFK airport on October 10, 2002, under a warrant for passport fraud, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the FBI ordered al-Aulaqi’s release, even though the arrest warrant was still active at the time of his detention as reported by the Fox News Channel’s Catherine Herridge. Once released al-Aulaqi then took a flight to Washington, DC, and eventually returned to Yemen.
Since September 2009, according to the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy, 26 terrorism cases have been tied to al-Aulaqi, including an association with blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, currently in prison for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Anwar al-Aulaqi was also known to have been in email contact (19 email exchanges) with Major Nidal Hasan, who was charged with 13 murders in the Fort Hood massacre on November 5, 2009, and allegedly had contacts with at least three of the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“These documents provide further evidence that the federal government, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, has been operating a ‘catch and release’ program for terrorists,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The idea of inviting al-Aulaqi – a known terrorist – to our embassy in Yemen in order to revoke his passport is beyond belief.”