Anwar al-Aulaqi: Inspiring Jihadists Five Years After His Death

The attack on Monday at Ohio State University highlights the enduring influence of radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who was killed in a US airstrike in Yemen in 2011. Abdul Artan, who shortly before the Ohio State attack posted a statement on Facebook praising Aulaqi as “our hero,” drove his vehicle through a crowd and struck fellow students with a knife, injuring 11. Artan’s motives are still under investigation, and in the same Facebook post, he made references to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and lone-wolf attacks.

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  • A US citizen and native English speaker, Aulaqi demonstrated that anyone can participate in violent jihad, and throughout various lectures and sermons he repeatedly called on Muslims in America and Europe to “take action.” Aulaqi is credited with inspiring Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who killed three and wounded 264 at the Boston Marathon in 2013, as well as Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 14 and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.
     
  • ISIS has leveraged Aulaqi’s messages for its own propaganda. In December 2013 and March 2014, the group featured Aulaqi in videos promoting the idea of an Islamic State. Additionally, the fourth issue of ISIS’s English-language magazine Dabiq, released in 2014, featured a photo of Aulaqi.
     
  • Many jihadists view Aulaqi as a martyr because he was killed in a US airstrike, boosting his reverence and credibility among jihadist followers and potential recruits. Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 and wounded 53 in June, watched Aulaqi video sermons on violent jihad and the merits of martyrdom. 

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.