Anwar al-Awlaki “is a clear and present danger. He inspires those who commit violence. In some cases, he blesses their missions. In almost every case, he never meets the jihadist in person. Al-Awlaki is a virtual recruiter,” Fox News Correspondent Catherine Herridge wrote in her recent book The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda’s American Recruits. Now that the American-born al-Awlaki has been killed in a missile strike in Yemen, where stands the threat of “the next wave”? Herridge takes questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What does the successful CIA-led strike on the American Anwar al-Awlaki mean?
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: The cleric’s death is not the end of al-Qaeda 2.0. He was a digital jihadist, and his legacy lives on in the virtual world. Based on feedback from my intelligence and military contacts, The Next Wave is more relevant now than ever before. It makes the case that al-Awlaki’s American followers are part of al-Qaeda’s next act. They are the “Facebook friends from hell” who leverage social networking to spread their ideology of hate.
That said, the Obama administration should be given full credit for embracing and expanding — through the drone campaign — the counterterrorism toolbox established by the Bush administration. Based on reaction from the ACLU and others, the strike was not popular with the president’s supporters on the left, but it seems the Obama White House put national security over political interests.
LOPEZ: In your book, you are deeply personal about the War on Terror and what it means to you and your family. In keeping with that: What was your initial reaction when you learned of his death?
HERRIDGE: As a military mom with a husband facing another deployment, I can’t help but be relieved the cleric is off the battlefield. That said, I am troubled by any administration — Republican or Democrat — that acts as judge, jury, and executioner for an American citizen overseas. If the evidence is as strong as the White House maintains, then the Obama administration should live up to its promise of transparency and release it to the public.
LOPEZ: Why has he always been a focus of yours?
HERRIDGE: After the Fort Hood massacre two years ago, I was asked a simple question by a sharp writer at The Fox Report with Shepard Smith: Why have Americans old enough to remember 9/11 turned their back on their own country and joined al-Qaeda? The question gave me pause. Virtually every investigative thread led to the cleric al-Awlaki and his digital jihad.
I have covered terrorism for two decades: First the IRA, then in Iraq, then in the former Yugoslavia, and now al-Qaeda. I tend to follow my instincts.
LOPEZ: I know he had ties to 9/11 hijackers, but was there enough of a connection to get a guy killed?
HERRIDGE: Based on my reporting, U.S. and Yemeni intelligence had a good idea where the cleric was at least a week before the strike. If that was truly the case, it begs the question, “Why didn’t we pick him up?” It would be good to know why.
Al-Awlaki would be a central witness in the Fort Hood case. He could explain his e-mail relationship with Army Maj. Nidal Hasan — the accused shooter. Al-Awlaki would also be an important witness in the case of Ali al-Timimi, whose conviction for inciting jihad is on appeal. Fox’s reporting showed that al-Awlaki’s questionable connection to an FBI agent was withheld from al-Timimi’s defense team.
Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I believe in preserving evidence, and that includes witnesses.