(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images )
President Obama credited American intelligence operations and cooperation with the Yemeni government for the death of key Al Qaeda figure Anwar Awlaki on Friday, calling it a "major blow" to the terrorism network's most active operational affiliate and a sign of things to come.
Obama said the U.S. will be "resolute in its commitment" to wipe out Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, of which Awlaki was a leader.
"AQAP remains a dangerous, though weakened terrorist organization," Obama said. "Make no mistake: This is further proof that Al Qaeda will find no safe haven anywhere in the world."
U.S. officials consider Awlaki's death a significant victory for the administration, given the Muslim cleric's connection to several plots on U.S. soil and around the globe.
U.S. counter-terrorism operations have killed at least 20 Al Qaeda leaders in the field, but Awlaki's death raised new concerns for some Obama critics because the target was an American citizen.
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on Friday criticized Obama for "assassinating" Awlaki, saying he should have been tried in a U.S. court like domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.
"If the American people accept this blindly and casually, that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it's sad," Paul told reporters in Manchester, N.H. He said his disagreement arises largely from the fact that Awlaki holds dual American and Yemeni citizenship and authorities have never been "specific" about his crime.
In a prelude to his remarks at a ceremony marking the departure of Adm. Michael G. Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama listed several of the plots in which officials say Awlaki was involved.
The president did not explicitly refer to those plots as acts of war, though that is the U.S. government's justification for strikes against enemy combatants in the field.
U.S. officials say that in his position as chief of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Awlaki played a "significant operational role" in the attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner two years ago, and also helped oversee the plot to blow up a cargo plane bound for Chicago last October.
The man accused of attacking military personnel at Ft. Hood used to attend Awlaki's sermons in Virginia and corresponded with him via email, and the man who pleaded guilty to the 2010 Times Square bombing attempt told interrogators he was inspired by Awlaki.
"He directed attempts to murder innocent Americans," Obama said of Awlaki. "He repeatedly called on individuals in the U.S. and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children."
His death "marks a significant milestone" in the effort to disable Al Qaeda, Obama said.