Yemen’s Charges Against Awlaki Center Around Anti-US Sermons

Despite Trying to Tie Case to Oil Firm Murder, Awlaki's Role Is Purely Speech

Desperate to try to prove to the West that they are doing something about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni government today did what the US government has so far refused to, charged Anwar Awlaki with an actual crime. We are assured by most media reports that the two incidents are connected, though there has yet to be any publicly released evidence tying Awlaki to AQAP, it is merely a popular assertion among US hawks.

The New Mexico born Awlaki made headlines early in the year by being the first American citizen to be confirmed to be on President Obama’s assassination list. Legal complaints insisting Awlaki can’t be assassinated without being charged with some sort of actual crime have been rejected by administration officials as inappropriate meddling in the assassination process.

But the charges are totally distinct from anything AQAP related, and instead are being shoehorned into the trial of Hisham Assem, a 19 year old murder suspect Allawi never met and apparently never even spoke to. Assem is charged with the murder of a Frenchman last month, and while officials claim the killing was “for personal reasons” they have nonetheless termed it terrorism.

But where Awlaki comes in is even more convoluted. According to media reports, Assem had been exchanging emails with a member of the massive Awlaki tribe, a distant cousin of the US-born cleric’s. The other Awlaki had sent Assem links to online sermons by Anwar condemning the US occupations in the Middle East.

And because the speech was critical of the US, and because the guy Assem killed was a foreigner, Awlaki is being charged with “promoting violence and the killing of foreigners,” entirely on the basis of the content of his speeches.

Which must inevitably spark a new debate about whether the Obama Administration is simply planning to assassinate Awlaki for his criticism of US foreign policy. The administration insists this is not the case but there is a paucity of evidence that he ever did anything else, and even know that he has been charged with something akin to an actual “crime” it is purely a crime of speech, and purely on the basis of publicly available sermons

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of