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Image: Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in October 2008.
Muhammad Ud-Deen  /  AP, file
Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in October 2008.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/30/2011 3:22:09 PM ET 2011-09-30T19:22:09

Anwar al-Awlaki, the bespectacled 40-year-old American militant cleric, was a prominent figure in al-Qaida network's most dangerous branch and used his fluent English and Internet savvy to draw recruits for attacks in the United States.

U.S. counterterrorism forces on Friday killed al-Awlaki in the eastern Yemeni province of al-Jawf, according to the country's defense ministry and U.S. officials. A second American, Samir Khan, who edited al-Qaida's Internet magazine, was also killed in the same airstrike on their convoy.

The Yemeni-American had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Barack Obama in April 2010 — making him the first American placed on the CIA "kill or capture" list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn't harmed.

Yemeni officials had previously reported that al-Awlaki had been killed in late 2009.

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Here is some background about al-Awlaki:

Life history
Born in New Mexico in the United States in 1971, Awlaki was a U.S. citizen.

He graduated in civil engineering from Colorado State University and holds a master's degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University.

His family is well-known in Yemen, where his father, Nasser al-Awlaki, is a former agriculture minister.

Al-Awlaki is a former imam of mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Va.

In 2000, al-Awlaki was preaching in a San Diego mosque where he met two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

Shortly after that, he became a preacher at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, just outside Washington.

After Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, al-Awlaki was interviewed at least four times in two weeks about his dealings with three of the hijackers aboard the flight that slammed into the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 Commission report said al-Awlaki was also investigated by the FBI in 1999 and 2000. None of the investigations led to criminal charges against him.

He left the United States in 2002, spending time in London before returning to Sanaa in 2004.

Video: Second American killed in al-Awlaki strike

In Yemen, he taught at a university before he was arrested and imprisoned in 2006 for suspected links to al-Qaida and involvement in attacks.

He was released in December 2007 because he said he had repented, a Yemeni security official said. But he was later charged again on similar counts and went into hiding.

Last year, the United States authorized operations to capture or kill al-Awlaki. "Awlaki is a proven threat," said a U.S. official at the time, Reuters reported.

Links to AQAP
Intelligence agencies had viewed al-Awlaki as chiefly an al-Qaida sympathizer and recruiter for Islamist causes with possible ties to some of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.

Image: Nidal Malik Hasan
AP, file
Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in late 2010.

That assessment changed in late 2009 with revelations about his contacts with a Nigerian suspect in the attempted bombing of an airliner approaching Detroit on Christmas Day, claimed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and with a U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas in November.

Image: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
AFP - Getty Images, file
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to bring down an American airliner using explosives hidden in his underwear.

After the Christmas Day airliner plot, U.S. and Yemeni officials said they learned that al-Awlaki had met the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist, had sent emails to al-Awlaki, which were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies and examined by U.S. joint terrorism task forces.

Story: Radical cleric influenced many plots, US says

Hassan was "a hero," al-Awlaki wrote in a blog post after the attack. "He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people," he wrote. Al-Awlaki's website was closed down after the Fort Hood killings.

Internet-savvy and eloquent in English and Arabic, al-Awlaki encouraged attacks on the United States and was seen as a man who could draw in more al-Qaida recruits from Western countries.

Britain's intelligence chief John Sawers singled out al-Awlaki as a major threat in a speech last October, saying: "From his remote base in Yemen, al-Qaida leader and U.S. national Anwar al-Awlaki broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the Internet."

Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

Photos: Political unrest in Yemen, June

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  1. A vendor selling perfumes sits by the site of a demonstration by anti-government protestors demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, on June 30. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A soldier and anti-government protesters shout slogans demanding the creation of a governing council to lead the country in Sanaa on June 27. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Students study for final exams by candlelight in Sanaa on June 25. The city's electricity supply is cut for up to 20 hours a day, a source of much frustration for residents of the capital. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Anti-government protesters perform Friday noon prayers during a demonstration demanding an immediate end to President Saleh's rule in Sanaa on June 24. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Anti-government protesters sit atop a billboard during a rally before Friday prayers to demand the ouster of President Saleh, in Sanaa on June 24. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Senior opposition tribal member Hashim al-Ahmar attends Friday prayers in Sanaa on June 24. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Children fill water from public taps in Sanaa on June 20. A chronic water shortage has led to predictions that millions of Yemenis may eventually have to abandon Sanaa and other mountain cities for the coastal plain. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. An anti-government protester flashes the victory sign through a hole in Yemen's national flag during a demonstration to demand the ouster of President Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on June 20. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Anti-government protesters hold up posters of Abdullah Qairan, police chief of the city of Taiz, during a demonstration to demand the ouster of President Saleh in Taiz on June 18. The posters read, "Wanted dead or alive - the butcher Abdullah Qairan". (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Opposition followers clean a street to prepare to put up tents for a sit-in to demand the ouster of President Saleh in Taiz on June 18. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Anti-government protesters sit on the ground holding umbrellas to shelter from the sun, as they listen to a speech during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Saleh, in Sanaa on June 17. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. An anti-government protester interacts with soldiers loyal to the protesters during a demonstration demanding the immediate end of the 32-year regime of President Saleh, in Sanaa on June 17. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A young supporter of President Saleh sits inside the Al-Saleh mosque in Sanaa on June 17. There have been conflicting reports as to whether Saleh, who is being treated for shrapnel wounds in Saudi Arabia, will return to Yemen. (Wadia Mohammed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An anti-government protester holds a poster of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Saleh in Sanaa on June 14. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Saleh, in Sanaa on June 15. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Anti-government protesters shout slogans demanding the immediate creation of a governing council to lead the country, in Sanaa on June 14. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An armed tribesman, loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, walks in a vegetable and fruit market that was damaged in clashes with Yemeni security forces, in Sanaa on June 13. (Mohammed Al-sayaghi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Mourners bury the body of an opposition supporter killed during recent clashes with police in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz on June 12. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh hold banners and his posters during a rally one week after an attack on the presidential palace in Sanaa on June 10. (Wadia Mohammed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A woman with a picture of President Ali Abdullah Saleh clipped to her forehead attends a rally in Sanaa, on June 10. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Anti-government protesters reach a vehicle carrying Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, to shake hands with him as he visits the site of a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, June 10. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Thousands of Yemeni anti-government protesters attend a demonstration demanding the establishment of a civil governing council, in Sanaa, June 10. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Yemeni soldiers who joined sides with anti-regime protesters wave their rifles and chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa on June 10. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Anti-government protesters carry the bodies of fighters loyal to opposition tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who were killed during clashes with security forces in the past few days, during a mass funeral in Sanaa June 10. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Yemeni pro-government supporter walks past a poster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh at the Old City of Sanaa, on Tursday, June 9. (Wadia Mohammed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh take to the streets to celebrate news that Saleh's health is stable, after he was taken to Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment for wounds he suffered in a rocket attack on his compound, in Sanaa, Yemen, early Thursday, June 9. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A member of the Yemeni security forces takes up a position inside the Ministry of Industry and Trade, during clashes with tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, in Sanaa on June 8. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A Yemeni anti-government protester sleeps on a rug near tents in Sanaa on June 8 before soldiers dismantled them because they were blocking traffic. The tents were set up by anti-government protesters demanding an interim presidential council to prevent embattled president Ali Abdullah Saleh from returning to power. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Armed Yemeni opposition tribesmen keep watch in an area of Taiz on June 8 as Yemen's second largest city was calm, a day after armed dissidents seized control of most areas, following clashes with troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Anti-government protesters perform a traditional dance during a rally demanding the immediate creation of a governing council to replace the 32-year regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa on June 8. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Armed Yemeni tribesmen loyal to dissident tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar inspect damage at his house in Sanaa on June 7 while anti-government protesters demanded a swift transfer of power from Ali Abdullah Saleh as his deputy said the veteran Yemeni president would return within days after surgery in Riyadh for blast injuries. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Yemeni pro-opposition soldiers join anti-government protesters in Sanaa on June 5, to celebrate what they said was the fall of Yemen's regime after embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounded in a blast, left the country for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A man, wounded during clashes between security forces and tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashed tribe, lies in a hospital bed in Sanaa on June 4. Thousands fled Sanaa on Saturday a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in an attack on his compound that marked a new stage in fighting which has brought Yemen closer to civil war. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. People ride in a vehicle with their belongings as they flee fighting in Sanaa on June 4. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Relatives and friends of tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, who were killed in clashes with Yemeni security forces carry their bodies during their funeral procession in Sanaa on June 3. Tens of thousands of Yemenis held a mass funeral Friday for 50 people killed in regime-sponsored violence in the capital. (Hani Mohammed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Anti-government protesters take part in a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on June 3. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Fire and smoke erupt during clashes between tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar and Yemeni security forces in Sanaa, late on June 2. Government forces in Sanaa unleashed some of the heaviest shelling yet against their tribal rivals in a dramatic escalation of the conflict. (Mohammed Hamoud / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Yemeni soldiers flash the victory sign as they join anti-government protesters demanding the departing from office of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on June 2. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. An injured tribesman loyal to leader Shiekh Sadiq al-Ahmar is carried to a field hospital after clashes with police forces outside al-Ahmar's house in Sanaa on June 1. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (39) Political unrest in Yemen, June
  2. YEMEN
    Karim Ben Khelifa
    Slideshow (20) Yemen in the spotlight

Interactive: A look at Al-Qaida

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