President Barack Obama declared the killing of a fiery American-born cleric in Yemen a "major blow" to al-Qaida's most active affiliate, and vowed a vigorous U.S. campaign to prevent the terror network and its partners from finding a haven anywhere in the world.
Anwar al Awlaki and a second American, Samir Khan, were killed by a joint CIA-U.S. military air strike on their convoy in Yemen early Friday.
Al Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who received his master's degree at San Diego State University, had been closely followed by American intelligence and played key roles in inspiring attacks against the U.S.
"He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010," President Barack Obama said. "And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda."
The Muslim leader used to lead prayers at a La Mesa mosque, teaching the basics of Islam to San Diegans. In early 2000, two of the 9/11 hijackers turned up at the mosque where al-Awlaki was then an imam.
He left the US in 2002 for Yemen, and since then in videos and on-line lectures, he offered justifications for attacks on the west.
Edgar Hopida with the Council on American-Islamic Relations knew al-Awlaki and took classes with him.
“He didn't exhibit any extremist views while in San Diego,” Hopida said.
Hopida told one local television station that, while he does not agree with al-Awlaki's views, he also doesn't condone the killing.
“If the U.S. government has an allegation toward a person, they need to have due process. I think it’s a slippery slope to do an extrajudicial killing on any American citizen," he said.
Civil liberties groups have also questioned the government's authority to kill an American without trial.
White House Press secretary Jay Carney said Friday it was "well-established" that al-Awlaki had an operational, leadership role in Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, but he would not give any details.