Anwar Awlaki: Book Critic
Imam Anwar Awlaki, the jihadi superstar, is a big fan of Charles Dickens, but he hates Shakespeare.
The US-born Awlaki was forced to read English classics during his 18 months behind bars in a prison in Sana’a, Yemen. I say forced because a guard had forbidden him from reading the Islamic literature he preferred, so he asked his family to bring him whatever English novels he had lying around.
Awlaki described his encounter with English literature in a fascinating post on his now-defunct blog that was written well before he publicly justified killing American civilians.
Awlaki’s taste in books reveals much about him. Consider his reaction to the first English-language novel he read in prison: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
I cannot say that it was a good novel; but in jail, anything is good.
Now that Awlaki is being hunted like the white whale by U.S. forces, I wonder if he has given second thought to his brusque dismissal of Melville’s masterpiece.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see this highly symbolic tale of obsession and revenge as an allegory for post Sept. 11 America. Literary critic Edward Said sees bin Laden as our modern white whale hunted to the ends of the earth; journalist Stephen Kinzer sees in Captain Ahab the figure of George Bush, lashing out blindly at the force that has wounded him. Another parallel: The Pequod is hunting for the whale oil that lit 19th century New England homes.
How could Awlaki have failed to grasp these symbols of good and evil?
After that, the burgeoning jihadist read Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Shakespeare was the worst thing I read during my entire stay in prison. I never liked him to start with. Probably the only reason he became so famous is because he was English and had the backing and promotion of the speakers of a global language.
Still, Awlaki pressed on. He turned next to Charles Dickens. Here he fell in love.
I read Hard Times thrice. So, I ordered more Charles Dickens and read Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and his masterpiece: David Copperfield. I read this one twice.
What fascinated me with these novels were the amazing characters Dickens created and the similarity of some of them to some people today. That made them very interesting. For example: the thick and boastful Mr. Josiah Bounderby of Coketown was similar to George W. Bush; Lucy’s father, Mr. Gradgrind, was similar to some Muslim parents who are programmed to think that only Medicine and Engineering are worthy professions for their children; the amazing cruelness of Stephen Blackpool was similar to some people who appear on the surface to be decent and kind human beings; and Uriah Heep was similar to some pitiful Muslims today.
Not to take anything away from Dickens, but he’s a very different writer than either Melville or Shakespeare. A journalist by training, Dickens used his considerable storytelling gifts to call attention to the less fortunate with the goal of social reform in mind. But Dickens, unlike Melville and Shakespeare, wasn’t wrestling with God and the nature of human existence.
Although clearly bright, Awlaki’s taste in books reveals him as a man lacking in imagination — the true sign of genius.
Anwar al-Awlaki Timeline
Early years in America
Busted for Prostitution
The 9/11 Plot
Christmas Day Bombing
Airstrike in Yemen
April 1971: Anwar al-Awlaki born in Cruces, N.M. while father is on diplomatic posting.
1978: Leaves U.S. for Yemen.
Jan. 13, 1988: Issued U.S. passport.
June 5, 1990: Enters U.S. in Chicago with Yemeni passport with J-1 exchange visitor U.S. visa issued in Sana’a.
June 6, 1990: Applies for Social Security card. Claims he was born in Sana’a, Yemen.
June 8, 1990: SSN 521-77-7121 issued to Awlaki.
Aug. 21, 1991: Enters U.S. in Chicago.
1991: Attends Colorado State University on a scholarship from Yemen.
Jan. 29, 1992: Enters U.S. in New York City.
Nov. 18, 1993: Applies for a U.S. passport in Fort Collins, Colo.
1994: Graduates from Colorado State with bachelor’s in civil engineering.
1996: Named imam of Masjid al-Rabat in San Diego.
1996: Busted for soliciting a prostitute in San Diego.
Time uncertain: Arrested by San Diego police “for hanging around a school.” (9/11 Commission MFR FBI Agent #59)
1997: Busted again for soliciting a prostitute in San Diego.
1998 & 1999: Serves as vice president of Charitable Society for Social Welfare Inc., the U.S. branch of a Yemeni charity headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. Federal prosecutors in a New York terrorism-financing case later describe the charity as “a front organization” that was “used to support al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.”
January 1999: Enrolls in San Diego State University master’s in educational leadership program. SDSU spokesman says the school does not have records showing Awlaki earned a degree.
June 1999: FBI investigates Awlaki after learning that he may have been contacted by Ziyad Khaleel, who bought a satellite phone bin Laden used in the 1990s.
1999-2000: During its investigation, FBI learns that Awlaki knows individuals from the Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Sources alleged that Aulaqi had other extremist connections. (9/11 Commission Report)
February 2000: Four calls between Awlaki and Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who helped Al-Hamzi and Almihdhar find an apartment in San Diego. An FBI agent tells 9/11 Commission staff he is “98 percent sure” that the two hijackers were using al-Bayoumi’s phone at this time. (9/11 Commission MFR FBI Agent #63)
Early 2000: Visited by a subject of a Los Angeles FBI investigation closely associated with Blind Sheikh [Omar Abdel] Rahman. (Congressional Joint Inquiry on 9/11)
Early 2000: Several sources tell FBI that Alwaki “had closed-door meetings in San Diego” with Alhazmi, al-Midhar and another unidentified person “whom al-Bayoumi had asked to help the hijackers.” (Congressional Joint Inquiry)
Feb. 3, 2000: FBI electronic communication, background searches re: Awlaki. (9/11 Commission report)
March 2000: FBI closes its investigation, stating “the imam … does not meet the criterion for [further] investigation.” (Congressional Joint Inquiry on 9/11)
July-August 2000: Resigns from San Diego mosque.
Summer-Fall 2000: Travels abroad to “various countries.” (SD Union-Tribune 10/1/01)
January 2001: Moves to Virginia. Employed at Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., largest mosque in the country.
January 2001: Enrolls in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, pursing a Ph.D in human resource development.
Unknown: Meets Nidal Hasan, future Fort Hood shooter.
Early 2001: Named Muslim chaplain at GWU.
April 2001: Al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour arrive in Falls Church and attend Dar Al-Hijra mosque. Awlaki denies having contact with the men in Virginia. (9/11 Commission report)
July 20, 2001: Delivers sermon at Friday Jummah Prayer in U.S. Capitol.
Before Sept. 11, 2001: Awlaki returns briefly to San Diego (9/11 Commission MFR) “Reportedly acted suspiciously by declining help with boxes he was transporting in a rental car (driven only 37 miles) and by refusing to provide any local address to the rental agent.” (9/11 Commission MFR FBI Agent #59)
August 2001: According to NY Times, Awlaki tells neighbor Lincoln Higgie, “I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why.”
Sept. 17, 2001: In comments published on IslamOnline, Alawki suggested that Israelis may have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that the FBI “went into the roster of the airplanes and whoever has a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default.”
Sept. 15-19, 2001: Interviewed four times by FBI. Awlaki says he did not recognize Hazmi’s name but identifies his picture. Admitted meeting with Hazmi several times, he claimed not to remember any specifics of what they discussed. Describes Hazmi as a soft-spoken Saudi student who used to appear at the mosque with a companion but who did not have a large circle of friends. Does not identify Almihdhar.
September-November 2001: Interviewed numerous times by reporters, including National Geographic, Ray Suarez and The Washington Post.
2001-2002: Awlaki observed allegedly taking Washington-area prostitutes into Virginia. Authorities contemplate charging him under the Mann Act, reserved for nabbing pimps who transport prostitutes across state lines.
March 2002: Awlaki leaves for U.K.
March 31, 2002: Lectures at Quran Expo in London
April 2002: Employment with Dar Al-Hijra mosque ends.
2002: Federal prosecutors in Colorado receive information from Ray Fournier, a federal diplomatic security agent in San Diego who was investigating Awlaki for passport fraud.
June 2002: Figures in Operation Green Quest, a terrorism-related money-laundering investigation.
Mid-2002: Radwan Abu-Issa, the subject of a Houston Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation, sends money to Awlaki, according to a document in a restricted government database. Awlaki’s name was placed on an early version of what is now the federal terror watch list.
June 17, 2002: Federal magistrate in Colorado signs warrant for Awlaki’s arrest for passport fraud.
October 2002: A federal diplomatic special agent in Colorado began investigating in preparation to take the case to a grand jury learns Awlaki corrected the place of birth on his Social Security application to New Mexico.
Oct. 8, 2002: FBI electronic communication, interview re: Awlaki. (9/11 Commission Report)
Oct. 9, 2002: Arrest warrant rescinded.
Oct. 10, 2002: Arrives in New York on a Saudi Airlines flight from Riyadh. Briefly detained by INS.
Oct. 11, 2002: Criminal case terminated.
Late 2002: Visits Fairfax, Virginia home of Ali al-Timimi, a radical cleric, and asked him about recruiting young Muslims for “violent jihad.” Al-Timimi, is now serving a life sentence for inciting followers to fight with the Taliban against Americans.
Late 2002: Departs U.S. for London.
June 2003: Delivers lecture at Muslim Association of Britain symposium in London
December 2003: Islamic Forum of Europe lecture: “Stop police terror.”
Dec. 18, 2003: British MP Louise Ellman tells House of Commons calls Muslim Association of Britain is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; says Awlaki “is reportedly wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.”
Early 2004: Moves to Yemen.
2004: Lectures at Imam University in Sana’a, Yemen, a school headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani.
Mid-2006: Awlaki arrested in Yemen. Claims he was held at the request of the U.S. government.
Oct. 17, 2006: Yemeni secret police raid swept up eight foreigners living in Sana’a, under surveillance by the CIA and British intelligence, and at least 12 other men across Yemen. Yemeni authorities insist they dismantled an al-Qa’ida cell and disrupted a gun-running ring to neighbouring Somalia, although no evidence is found. Awlaki (identified as “Abu Atiq”) said to be key to the raid.
September 2007: FBI agents interview Awlaki in prison. Ask about contacts with 9/11 hijackers.
December 2007: Awlaki released after 18 months confinement in Yemen, almost all of it in solitary confinement.
February 2008: Registers http://www.anwar-alawlaki.com
February 2008: U.S. counterterrorism officials link Awlaki to terrorism, The Washington Post reports. “There is good reason to believe Anwar Aulaqi has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States, including plotting attacks against America and our allies,” an anonymous U.S. counterterrorism official tells the Post.
Unknown: Awlaki leaves Sana’a and moves to remote Shabwa region.
Dec. 17, 2008: Maj. Nidal Hasan contacts Awlaki via e-mail. “Do you remember me? I used to pray with you at the Virginia mosque.” Awlaki tells Al-Jazeera: “He was asking about killing American soldiers and officers. [He asked] whether this is a religiously legitimate act or not.”
“…the first message was asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army. In other messages, Nidal was clarifying his position regarding the killing of Israeli civilians. He was in support of this, and in his messages he mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles. Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could transfer some funds to us [and by this] participate in charitable activities.”
December 2008: San Diego JTTF opens investigation into intercepted e-mails between Awlaki and Maj. Nidal Hasan. (FBI statement)
Jan. 1, 2009: Awlaki speaks via satellite link at London Muslim Centre. Event organized by Noor Pro Media.
January 2009: In blog post, Awlaki asks: “Today the world turns upside down when one Muslim performs a martyrdom operation. Can you imagine what would happen if that is done by seven hundred Muslims on the same day?!”
January 20, 2009: Al Qaida forces in Yemen unite under the umbrella of Al Qaida in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAP).
February 2009: Awlaki blog post, “I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies and the day that happens, and I assure you it will and sooner than you think, I will be very pleased.”
Early 2009: E-mail contacts continue between Awlaki and Hassan. FBI San Diego forwards two messages to Washington Field Office. Later e-mail described as “more serious” not shared.
March 15, 2009: AQAP claims credit for attacks that kills four South Korean tourists and their guide in in the city of Shibam in Hadramut; days later, a convoy of Korean officials sent to investigate is attacked.
July 2009: Awlaki praises insurgent attack on Yemeni troops in Marib.
Aug. 4: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Nigerian suspected of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253, attends Sana’a Institute for the Arabic Language, according to the Yemeni Foreign Ministry.
August: The U.S. National Security Agency intercepts al-Qaida conversations about an unidentified “Nigerian.”
Aug. 27: AQAP claims credit for an attack that narrowly missed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and head of the kingdom’s counterterrorism operations. Suicide bomber detonated PETN bomb hidden in his underwear.
Sept. 21: Abdulmutallab leaves Sana’a Institute.
Fall: NSA intercepts “voice-to-voice communication” between Abdulmutallab and Awlaki indicating that Aulaqi “was in some way involved in facilitating this guy’s transportation or trip through Yemen.”
October: Abdulmutallab travels to Shabwa province. The 23-year-old engineering graduate probably met with al-Qaeda operatives in a house built by Awlaki.
October: CIA rebuffs Yemeni government request for help locating Awlaki for possible capture operation, according to The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. CIA concluded that it could not assist because the agency lacked specific evidence that he threatened the lives of Americans. A Yemeni request forU.S. Special Forces’ help on the ground in pursuing Awlaki also refused.
Fall: Awlaki tells Yemeni journalist that he met Abdulmutallab:
- “Umar Farouk is one of my students; I had communications with him,” Awlaki says
- Yemeni Foreign Minister Rashad Alimi states Abdulmutallab met Awlaki at a remote meeting place in Shabwa province.
- Abdulmutallab tells FBI that Alwaki personally blessed attack.
November: U.S. official tells David Ignatius Awlaki “didn’t go operational until November. It wasn’t a case of missed intelligence, not at all. The Yemenis didn’t even think he had assumed an operational role.” This official also notes that “there was an American policy decision not to put boots on the ground,” limiting any military action.
Nov. 5, 2009: Hasan allegedly kills 13 at Fort Hood.
Nov. 7, 2009: Post on Awlaki’s website praises Hasan as a “hero.”
After the Fort Hood shooting, FBI, CIA, NSA, NCTC conduct interagency “scrub” of Awlaki’s contacts to determine who poses a threat. (Michael Leiter, testimony 1/20/09 before Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.)
Dec. 7, 2009: Abdulmutallab leaves Yemen for Ethiopia.
Dec. 14, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designates Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula aka Al Qaeda in Yemen as a terrorist organization. Two AQAP leaders, Nasir al-Wahishi and Said Ali al-Shihri, also designated as terrorists
Dec. 23, 2009: Al-Jazeera broadcasts interview with Awlaki.
Dec. 24, 2009: Awlaki falsely reported as killed in Yemeni airstrike.
- On orders from President Barack Obama, ABC News reports, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles against two suspected al-Qaida sites: a suspected training camp north of Sanaa and a location where officials said “an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned.”
- Yemen Embassy states Yemeni air forces targeted “scores of Yemeni and foreign al-Qaida operatives” at a remote location southeast of Sanaa. Awlaki “presumed to be at the site” along with Nasir al-Whaishi, senior leader of Al Qaida in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAP) and his deputy, (former Guantanamo detainee) Said al-Shiri.
- Official Yemen state news agency, SABA, reports attack targeted an al-Qaida hideout in the Rafdh area of the al-Said district in Shabwa province.
Dec. 25, 2009: Rep. Pete Hoekstra, senior Republican on House Intelligence Committee, suggests there may be a link between Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Dec. 29, 2009: Alwaki became “operational” sometime over past year, senior U.S. official tells Fox News.
“Late” 2009: Awlaki’s name added to separate lists of maintained “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals” maintained by U.S. Joint Special Operations Command’s list and the Central Intelligence Agency
Jan. 3, 2010: “Mr. Awlaki is a problem. He’s clearly a part of Al Qaida in Arabian Peninsula. He’s not just a cleric. He is in fact trying to instigate terrorism,” said John Brennan, deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism and homeland security.
Jan. 14: Ali Mohamed Al Anisi, the director of Yemen’s National Security Agency and a senior presidential adviser, said talks were under way with members of Mr. Awlaki’s tribe in an effort to convince the cleric to turn himself in.
Jan. 19: Awlaki tells Yemeni journalist he has no intention of surrendering and denies Yemeni government claims that negotiations were underway aiming at a surrender.
Jan. 20: Senate Foreign Relations Committee report: “Although Awlaki has not yet been accused of a crime, U.S. intelligence and military officials consider him to be a direct threat to U.S. interests.”
Jan. 25: ABC News reports, “White House lawyers are mulling the legality of proposed attempts to kill an American citizen, Anwar Awlaki … according to two people briefed by U.S. intelligence officials.”
Jan. 27: The Washington Post:
- “U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people….”
- “As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said.”
- “Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.”
Jan. 31: LA Times: “While Awlaki has not yet been placed on the CIA list, the officials said it is all but certain that he will be added because of the threat he poses. … Awlaki is already on the military’s list, which is maintained by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.”
Feb. 2: Awlaki tells Al-Jazeera that he did not order the Christmas Day airliner bombing, but expresses support.
Feb. 3: Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says intelligence community may assassinate U.S. citizens involved in terrorism. “We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”
Feb. 5: CBS News: “The suspect in a failed Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt told federal investigators that radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki directed him to carry out the attack, CBS News has learned”
March 19: Awlaki calls on American Muslims to take up Jihad against the United States.
March 26: CIA Director Leon Panetta tells WSJ Awlaki is “clearly” someone the agency is seeking. “There isn’t any question that he’s one of the individuals that we’re focusing on.”
May 23: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a 45-minute interview with Awlaki, who justifies killing American civilians.
June 3: DOJ reveals that Awlaki had been in e-mail contact with 29-year-0ld Barry Walter Bujol in Texas. Awlaki provided Bujol with a document entitled “42 Ways of Supporting Jihad.” Bujol asked Awlaki for advice on how to provide money to the “mujahideen” overseas.