The man seemed different from anybody she had ever arrested before, standing there with his hands hanging loosely by his side in front of the convenience store, downtown San Diego.
Even though he was not a particularly large man, to her he seemed very unsettling, with his oversized round glasses and stern, thickly bearded unsmiling face.
“Hi,” said the man, his face inscrutable.
“Hi, looking for a date?” responded the female plain-clothes officer. Hidden in her panties was a snub-nosed .32 ACP Beretta Tomcat that she could easily access through a deliberately slit trouser pocket.
“You working?” The man meant – was she available. He sounded like he had done this before.
“Yeah, you interested?”
“Well? What do you want?”
“Blowjob, okay, that will be twennie five.”
“Okay, let me check my money..” ***rifles inside his pockets*** “Okay I got it, let’s go.”
“Okay.” At that point, with a fluid motion of her right hand, the officer brought out the Beretta and stepped back, commanding him flatly to turn around and face the wall of the convenience store they were in front of.
In the Arrest/Juvenile Contact Report which she began filling in by hand, the officer (name withheld for security reasons), crossed the boxes……
Charge : 647(b) PC – Soliciting prostitution / Disposition :San Diego City Jail
Lower down, near the bottom of the arrest report, she checked a box that read – There is a likelihood that the prosecution of the offense for which this individual is being arrested, will be jeopardized by this individual’s immediate release.
Done filling the form, the officer ran her eyes over the report once more to check that all the necessary info had been entered. Then, just to be sure, she looked down at the man who now sat quietly in a corner of the back seat of her squad car, his hand-cuffed hands feverishly fingering the prayer beads he held tightly, while he mumbled something unintelligible, over and over under his breath.
The officer said,” Can you spell your name again, Sir?”
“a-n-w-a-r….a-l….a-w-l-a-q-i,” he said, but somehow the police officer filed it as ‘Aulaqi’ instead of ‘Awlaqi’, an error that would significantly delay the worldwide manhunt that was launched to capture and kill him, a decade later.
The officer signed off with a date and time stamp – April 04, 1997 / 2210 hrs. In the ensuing years, until 2003 when he fled to his native Yemen from England, Awlaki would solicit prostitution multiple times, even being apprehended on multiple occasions.
That night in San Diego, little did the arresting officer suspect that this man would one day, fourteen years later, be the first US citizen to be hunted down and killed without trial by his own government, with a Hellfire missile from an MQ-1 Predator drone that was owned and operated by the US Joint Special Operations Command, under the direct authority of the CIA.
Not that he didn’t get what was coming to him. His death couldn’t have come sooner.
Born in the US in 1971, to Yemeni parents, Anwar Al-Awlaki spoke better English than Arabic. When he was seven, his father took the family back to Yemen where he led a comfortable life as a member of the Yemeni elite – first as Minster of Agriculture and then, as university chancellor. From the start, Anwar led a life of privilege and wealth. Then, when he turned 19, his father sent him back to study engineering in the US, which he did – at the Colorado State University, from where he graduated and took an engineering job briefly.
Around this time, Awlaki realized that he had grown two facets in his personality – a gift of the gab and a deep interest in Islam. Fast forward to Denver, where he took on a part-time job as an imam. There on, his rhetorical skills soon led to a full-time job at a mosque in San Diego and then in early 2001, to a more prominent mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, outside Washington.
Immediately following 9/11, Awlaki was still a good (at least with regard to radicalisation). He publicly and privately condemned and quickly gained national attention as a Muslim cleric who could not only articulate maturely the grievances of American Muslims toward the Islamophobia that swept America, but also explain the intricacies of Islam in easily understandable English, to Americans suddenly interested in this unfamiliar religion.
By 2002, Anwar Al-Awlaki had become well known to the FBI as a serial offender with regard to his proclivity to engage prostitutes. He began to worry that if his shenanigans were to be revealed to the Muslim community, among whom he was by now highly respected as an imam, he might be exposed as a hypocrite who didn’t practice what he preached.
Afraid of the resultant shame, Awlaki moved to London, England, where his decline into evil began in earnest. Awlaki gained entry into rabidly radical circles there and began giving lectures on Islamic ideology steadily growing more and more intolerant.
“The important lesson to learn is this – never ever trust a kuffar (non-Muslim). Remember that their leaders are constantly trying to kill this religion. They’re plotting night and day against us.”
Awlaki’s fluent Englsih gained him hundreds of young Muslim followers and soon he had upto 500 attendees to his Friday afternoon sermons. To the young British Muslims, he was the first man who translated the concept of jihad into English, making it something that they could identify easily with.
At London’s Masjid al-Tawhid mosque, Awlaki held forth, describing what paradise would look like, to martyrs. “A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim. He does not betray him and he does not hand him over to his enemies,” he exhorted. He toured England and Scotland, delivering his fiery rhetoric, collecting followers by the dozens, wherever he went. Taken in by his gabfests, scores of young British Christians too converted to Islam.
All this while, Awlaki’s temperament was steadily shifting, taking on a more and more dark and stridently intolerant tone in his lectures, spurred on by the gruesome extrajudicial killings and torture of Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib and Fallujah at the hands of out-of-control American servicemen. It was around this time that the British Special Branch began shadowing him.
Sensing arrest, Awlaki flew to his native Yemen and there he remained, at his family’s ancestral tribal territory in the Shabwah district, where he eventually joined the AQAP (Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula).
By now Awlaki was on a roll. He called on all Muslims to attack America and began to participate actively plotting against the United States, helping to recruit and coach a young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009 over Detroit. The attempt however failed – the bomb simply fizzed and gave out a lot of fumes, before he was tackled and subdued. Awlaki also appears to have played a role in the 2010 smuggling of explosives inside printer ink cartridges on cargo planes headed for the US. This time, a tip from the Saudi authorities thwarted the plot.
Anwar Al-Awlaki was now in deep cover, a haunted man who stopped sleeping in the same bed on consecutive nights. That however didn’t prevent him from founding a slickly produced, glossy online English language mag called Inspire for Al Qaida. It is an immensely popular magazine, created in the same style as periodicals such as Popular Mechanics. Inspire regularly publishes self-help tips for wannabe jihadis – like instructions on how to make a home-made pressure cooker bomb and what kind of knives are best suited for slitting open a Kuffar’s throat, etc.
Cover of the Inspire online magazine, with a featured article titled, ‘Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom’. By the time ‘Inspire’ took off, Awlaki was being spoken of in reverence, as ‘Shaykh Anwar Al-Awlaki’
Aimed primarily at western (American and British) readers, Inspire magazine has become an important brand-building tool, not just for the AQAP, but for all the Al Qaida franchises and affiliates. Unabashedly it exhorts young British and Americans to ‘open fire in crowded New York restaurants’ or ‘blow up the VIP stands at Wimbledon’ or simply go out into the street and mow down drivers and pedestrians at random, in rush hour.
When it began looking to the Americans like Awlaki urgently needed to be put down, President Obama had the guy’s name added to the kill list, authorizing his capture or killing on the basis that he posed an imminent threat to the United States.
The ‘Kill List’ is an informal nickname for the Disposition Matrix, a database that was developed to track, capture, rendition and/or kill suspected enemies of the US government. Other governments, like Israel, have their own versions of the database.
The Disposition Matrix is now a permanent fixture of American foreign policy, having been steadily honed into an exhaustive tool for extrajudicial killings overseas, defining the methods to be used, the chain of command and authorization and even how many innocents inadvertently killed in a drone strike (reportedly 20) are deemed as acceptable and allocating funds to be paid out as reparations to the next of kin, a dollar amount that is peanuts by American standards. The process determining criteria for killing has obviously not been made public.
Payments made to the next of kin of innocents are termed Condolence Payments by the US Military and they usually never exceed a few thousands. Even in killings by US ground troops in an ambush or when they called in an air strike that killed militants, the next of kin are compensated. In such cases the Americans either see out surviving family members or leave behind a card explaining how families can make claims. Other times, the onus is on the victims to collect evidence and to bring it to the attention of the local American military authorities, though how it is feasible for a bunch of illiterate farmhands to not get shot at when they approach to seek reparations, has never been explained.
In the blockbuster, Godfather-II, the mafia don, Michael Corleone famously says to one of his minions, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”
That adage proved prophetic in the case of Anwar Al-Awlaki, even though it was in a fictitious context. And given that weapons technology had come a long way since, it did not take long to set up the hit on Anwar Al-Awlaki. On September 30th, 2011, Awlaki was vaporized by a drone strike, along with his companion, a Pakistani American dude named Samir Khan, who was reportedly the editor of Inspire.
The Awlaki assassination raised the by-now familiar question : how a well-to-do, intelligent, educated man who seemed to have everything going for him, could devote his last years in trying to kill innocent civilians who were total strangers to him. As a corollary, another question opened up – how the pursuit of security could change America, prompting it to abandon long-held principles and assassinate an American. Would this from now on be America’s chosen method for seeking justice?
As it turns out, it would.
(to be continued…..)