The rather inconsequential killing of Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and a known member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), . But his death is virtually insignificant.
The American obsession with AQAP's resident English speaker began in 2009 when Major Nidal Malik Hasan of the US army killed 13 people and wounded 29 in in Texas. Investigations of the shooting revealed that Hassan had corresponded with Awlaki through email.
Time and again, since the Fort Hood shootings, American broadcast media have wrongly identified Awlaki as the leader of AQAP or at least one of its most senior figures. He was not.
AQAP's leader is , a former personal aide to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the man who presided over the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaida to found the group known as al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula.
So far, it is unclear whether the blow that killed Awlaki was dealt by the Yemeni or American militaries but undoubtedly the attack involved intelligence and logistical co-operation between the two countries. An American drone strike appears to be the most likely means by which Awlaki was killed.
The location of Awlaki's killing adds further weight to the view that he played absolutely no operational role in AQAP. According to , he was attacked while travelling from province to al-Jawf – more than 100km from where suspected AQAP militants have been engaging the Yemeni military in the southern province of Abyan. In such a crucial fight for supposed AQAP militants, a top commander moving so far away from the battle lines would seem preposterous.
Perhaps Awlaki was instead seeking out a more reliable internet connection to publish another issue of Inspire, AQAP's English language magazine. Inspire once suggested that would-be martyrs should attach and run people over in crowded shopping malls – an idea apparently borrowed from comedic post-apocalyptic films. Even Bin Laden thought was a bit too .
However, for Yemen's pro-democracy activists whose protest camps have been facing artillery bombardment for the past two weeks, Awlaki's death means little, if anything. The one thing that might pique the protesters' interest is the timing of Awlaki's death. Just seven days ago, President Ali Abdullah Saleh from Saudi Arabia where he was being treated for injuries sustained in a bomb attack last June.
Saleh's time-honoured strategy has been to try to convince the west, and the US in particular, that without him extremism would flourish in .
Thus, the single important consequence of Awlaki's death relates to the future of Saleh and his efforts to prolong his now-tenuous 33-year hold on power. Having duped the west three times into believing he was about to step down, he has now handed America's most sought-after head (in the shape of Awlaki) to Washington. With a counter-terrorism trophy like that on display for American audiences, US diplomats may find it difficult to maintain the pressure on Saleh to resign.
Meanwhile, with or without Awlaki, rival military factions still patrol the streets of Yemen's capital. Separatists will continue to call for a return of autonomy to the former People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen and tribes will continue to resist government control. American drones will continue to roam the Yemeni skies and pro-democracy protesters will continue to be gunned downed as they sling rocks at loyalist plainclothes gunmen armed with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades.
Average Yemenis will still continue to labour, day in and day out, in a seemingly endless struggle to feed their families in the midst of sustained violence and intermittent shelling of the cities and villages in which they live.