Nassar al-Awlaki may have made an online video encouraging people to follow in the footsteps of his dead son Anwar, al-Qaida’s infamous online propagandist. But he wants Danger Room to know that he’s not similarly calling for the deaths of Americans. He just thinks his son’s message was all about peace and harmony.
Danger Room “recently misunderstood me to be endorsing violence,” al-Awlaki wrote to us through his lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, “but that was not what I intended, nor is that what I have ever endorsed.”
Last week, Danger Room came across the elder al-Awlaki’s six-minute online video, titled “A Message From Dr. Nassar al-Awlaki To The Muslims Of The U.K.” Awlaki praised his son Anwar, whom the United States recently killed in a Yemen missile strike, as following the “path of Allah.” He urged viewers, “It is the job of all of us to spread his knowledge and keep it alive.”
But Nassar insists he wasn’t talking about the part of his son’s “simple and straightforward message” that advocated murdering Americans — about which he doesn’t have much to say.
“For years, my son gave lectures on Islam and how Muslims in the West can abide by their faith and live in accordance with the laws of Western societies,” Nassar al-Awlaki says in his statement, which was also released to CNN. “He also criticized U.S. foreign policy and called for justice for victims of unlawful wars and other abuses. These aspects of his sermons were important and true.”
Full disclosure: The ACLU both represents Nassar al-Awlaki — last year, they unsuccessfully sued to compel the government to state why it could legally kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen — and employs my wife. My wife did not work on the al-Awlaki lawsuit.
Nassar al-Awlaki, who now lives in Yemen, elides saying whether the portions of his son’s sermons that called for killing Americans were “important and true.” On YouTube videos, Anwar al-Awlaki urged, “Do not consult anyone in killing the Americans. Fighting Satan does not require a jurisprudence. It does not require consulting. It does not need a prayer for the cause. They are the party of Satan, and fighting them is a matter of time.”
Anwar al-Awlaki was in communication with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan — later blogging that Nasan was a “hero” for killing Americans — and would-be Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Those were hardly examples of “how Muslims in the West can abide by their faith and live in accordance with the laws of Western societies.”
U.S. officials claimed that Anwar al-Awlaki maintained an operational role in al-Qaida, justifying his killing, but have never offered evidence backing it up.
The most recent issue of Inspire, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language magazine, quotes Anwar al-Awlaki saying it’s obligatory for Muslims to kill anyone who “insult[s]” the Prophet Mohammed. “We will fight for him, we will instigate, we will bomb and we will assassinate,” the younger al-Awlaki said. (.PDF)
It’s good that Nassar al-Awlaki says he never “intended” to promote violence. But as long as he portrays his son’s message as a peaceful one, or one voicing mere “criticism” of U.S. foreign policy, then he’s hardly denouncing violence, either. Anwar al-Awlaki did not merely seek “justice” for innocent victims of war. He encouraged people to cause more innocent victims.
Even the propagandists of terror have fathers. No doubt Nassar al-Awlaki is grieving for both his son and his 16-year old grandson, who was also killed in a missile attack. And we’ve been skeptical about whether killing Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was legal. But that doesn’t mean anyone should whitewash Anwar al-Awlaki’s preachings — especially in a web video calling for his death not to “go in vain.”