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Anwar al-Awlaki: Is it legal to kill an American in war on terror?

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A report Wednesday in The New York Times indicated that what triggered US officials putting the Muslim cleric on the kill-or-capture list was their determination that he was not only inciting attacks against the US but also “participating” in them.

“Awlaki is a proven threat,” a US official told Reuters news agency. “He’s being targeted.”

Rep. Jane Harman (D) of California, who chairs the homeland security subcommittee on intelligence, calls Awlaki “probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us.”

“He is very much in the sights of the Yemenis, with us helping them,” Reuters quoted Representative Harman as saying at a recent panel discussion in Washington.

Over the past year, the US has increased the number of militants it has killed or captured, with those killed seeing the most pointed rise, says Thomas Sanderson, deputy director of the transnational threats program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. That rise is due to a “confluence of factors,” including better intelligence, more targeting, and increased cooperation between the US and Pakistan, he says.

Message: 'We are willing to play hardball'

Announcing that Awlaki is an important new target is probably good public relations in the war on terrorism, he adds. “It sends a message to extremists that we are willing to play hardball.”

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