CAIRO — A U.S.-born radical cleric who belongs to the al-Qaida offshoot behind the cargo bomb plot on the United States told Muslims they are free to kill American "devils" at will in a video posted on extremist websites Monday.
Anwar al-Awlaki's vitriolic sermons have inspired several attacks against the United States, and Yemeni officials say he may have given his blessing to the mail bomb plot even if he did not take an active part in it. The al-Qaida branch in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the foiled bomb plot.
In past messages, al-Awlaki has justified killing American civilians as retaliation for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. But this appeared to be an escalation, with the 39-year-old cleric arguing that no rationale was needed to seek out and kill Americans.
"Don't consult with anybody in killing the Americans," al-Awlaki said in the 23-minute video, in which he appeared dressed in a white robe and turban, with a sheathed dagger tucked into his waistband.
"Fighting the devil does not require a fatwa, nor consultation nor prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of Satan and fighting them is the obligation of the time," he said.
Fatwas are religious rulings on even the most mundane personal issues, such as marriage or finances and have been issued to allow the killing of people deemed to have insulted Islam or to have harmed Muslims.
In the video, Al-Awlaki accused the United States of pouring money into Yemen to encourage Yemenis to shun their religion.
"There is an American policy presented to the Yemeni government, funded by the West, for the people of this country to alienate them from their religion," said al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico of Yemeni parents.
U.S. intelligence has linked Al-Awlaki to the 9/11 hijackers and to last year's failed Christmas day bombing of a jetliner over Detroit. He also has ties to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at the Fort Hood, Texas, military base.
U.S. investigators say that since he returned to Yemen in 2006, al-Awlaki has moved beyond just inspiring militants to becoming an active operative in al-Qaida's affiliate there.
Short excerpts from the al-Awlaki video were released on Oct. 23, two weeks before the mail bombs were uncovered. But this was the first full posting of the video.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press last week that military aid to Yemen would double to $250 million in 2011 to help the country fight al-Qaida. The White House is seeking greater cooperation on intelligence sharing with the Yemeni government and more opportunities to train Yemeni counterterrorism teams in the aftermath of the failed mail bomb plot, a senior administration official said Sunday.
Al-Awlaki also attacked rulers in the Arab world, describing them as corrupt, and he called on religious scholars to declare them "non-Muslims" for betraying the Muslim people.
"Kings, emirs, and presidents are now not qualified to lead the nation, or even a flock of sheep," he said. "If the leaders are corrupt, the scholars have the responsibility to lead the nation."
He added that these leaders would have to be removed for the Muslim people to move forward.
The only way Muslims can protect themselves from the threat of the infidels is by supporting the "mujahedeen," he said.
"If we support the mujahedeen, we will win it all and if we let them down, we will lose it all," he said.