Washington, May 7: A missile strike from a American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.
The attack does not appear to have killed Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.
It was the first American strike in Yemen using an unmanned drone since 2002, when the Central Intelligence Agency struck a car carrying a group of suspected militant, including an American citizen, who were believed to have Qaeda ties.
The attack on Thursday, first reported on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, was part of a clandestine Pentagon program to hunt members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group believed responsible for a number of failed attempts to strike the United States, including the thwarted plot to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day 2009 as it was preparing to land in Detroit.
Although Mr. Awlaki is not thought to be one of the group's senior leaders, he has been made a target by American military and intelligence operatives because he has recruited English-speaking Islamic militants to Yemen to carry out attacks overseas. His radical sermons, broadcast on the Internet, have a large global following.
The Obama administration has taken the rare step of approving Mr. Awlaki's killing, even though he is an American citizen.
Troops from the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command are in charge of the mission in Yemen, with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Over the past two years, the military has launched strikes in Yemen using cruise missiles from Navy ships and munitions from Marine Harrier jets.
Thursday's strike was the first known attack in the country by the military for nearly a year. Last May, American missiles mistakenly killed a provincial government leader, and the Pentagon strikes were put on hold.
More recently, officials have worried that American military strikes in Yemen might further stoke widespread unrest that has imperiled the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.