REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON --The American son of Al Qaeda militant Anwar Awlaki was only 16 when he was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen weeks after a similar strike killed his father, the youth’s family says, raising fresh questions about the Obama administration’s use of targeted killings as a counterterrorism tool.
Abdel-Rahman Anwar Awlaki was born in Denver, according to what his family says is his Colorado birth certificate, which they posted online. It uses the spelling Aulaqi.
The teenager was among several people killed in a U.S. drone missile strike near the town of Azzan in southern Yemen on Oct. 14. U.S. officials said the military strike targeted Egyptian-born Ibrahim Banna, a senior figure in Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, who also was reported killed.
The Awlaki family condemned the attack and said Abdel-Rahman was only going to dinner and was not involved in terrorism.
“His Facebook page shows a typical kid,” the family, which is based in Yemen, said in the statement on Facebook. “A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.”
U.S. officials “had no idea” Abdel-Rahman was with Banna, but “this was a military-aged male traveling with a high-value target,” said a senior Obama administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
“I think we’re operating well within our authorities, and these missions are having an impact,” said another U.S. official who was briefed on the attack but was not authorized to speak publicly.
The family also has disputed that Anwar Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was an Al Qaeda militant. U.S. officials have said the radical cleric was in charge of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and played a direct role in several plots against the United States and its allies.
In the Facebook statement, the Awlaki family said the elder Awlaki’s younger brother, 17-year-old Ahmed Abdel-Rahman Awlaki, also was killed in the Oct. 14 air strike. His nationality was not known.
“Needless to say, the incident only deepens our concern about the targeted-killing program,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has disputed the administration’s efforts to kill U.S. citizens without due process or judicial review.
The family statement said that Abdel-Rahman had lived in the Yemeni capital, Sana, since 2002, and that he went to search for his father outside the capital in late September.
“On the night of Oct. 14, he left with some friends for dinner under the moonlight when an American missile landed, killing Abdel-Rahman and his friends,” the statement said.
U.S. officials said the teenager’s father helped direct the failed attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. He also had contacts with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of shooting 45 people and killing 13 of them at Ft. Hood, Texas, in November 2009.
-- Ken Dilanian. David S. Cloud in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.
Photo: The family of radical cleric Anwar Awlaki, seen in 2010 file photo, have posted a Facebook protest against drone strikes that killed him and his son. Credit: Associated Press / SITE Intelligence Group