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U.S.-born cleric rails against Yemen, Iran, United States

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Al-Awlaki threatens Americans
  • Muslim leadership of Yemen not "qualified to lead a herd of sheep," al-Awlaki says
  • Radical cleric's father asks judge to prevent president from ordering assassination
  • The Justice Department does not confirm any assassination plans
  • Don't ask permission to kill Americans, al-Awlaki says
  • Yemen
  • Iran
  • Islam

(CNN) -- An American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen blasted Sunni leaders, Shiite Iran and the United States in a video posted on jihadist websites Monday.

Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been connected with the Fort Hood shooting suspect and the suspect accused of trying to bring down an airliner with explosives in his underwear, accused Yemen's government leaders of being agents for the United States.

"There is an American political agenda that the Yemeni government is carrying out with a western funding in order to estrange the people of this country from their faith by all means," the cleric said in the video.

Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico, further condemned the government of Yemen, pointing out the rise of poverty, illiteracy, conflict among tribes and the Iranian influence.

"These so called guardians of the Muslim nation are not fit to lead the people," he said. "They are not even qualified to lead a herd of sheep, so imagine the leadership of one billion Muslims. When the rulers become corrupt, the scholars have a duty to guide the masses."

About Iran, al-Awlaki said that "the Sunni Muslims of the Gulf region will be the first victims of a nuclear strong Iran."

"I ask the Sunni scholars how will they do in fighting the rafidi (deserter) Shiite wave that is storming our region," he said. "By god, we are not calling for the killing of Muslims. We are only asking to defend our rights, the rights and the resources of our Muslim nation."

Al-Awlaki is the subject of a court case in Washington involving his father, who has asked a judge to prevent President Obama from ordering the assassination of an American citizen, in this case, his son. A hearing on the matter Monday did not result in a decision.

On Saturday, a Yemeni judge ordered the capture of al-Awlaki, prompting the deployment of more troops to search the remote regions of Yemen and bring him to court. Three men, including al-Awlaki, are on trial in Sanaa, Yemen, charged with inciting violence against foreigners. Al-Awlaki and his cousin, Othman al-Awlaki, are being tried in absentia. The third defendant, Hisham Asim, was in court Saturday.

Last week, YouTube removed "a significant number" of video clips it found to be inciting violence, many featuring al-Awlaki.

Western intelligence believes that al-Awlaki is a senior leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for the attempt to ship explosives into the United States via cargo planes. But the video was not produced by Malahim, the production unit of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

U.S. officials say al-Awlaki helped recruit Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines trans-Atlantic flight as it landed in Detroit, Michigan, on December 25, 2009. Al-Awlaki is also said to have exchanged e-mails with accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hassan.

In the video, al-Awlaki declared fighting Americans to be "the personal duty of our times."

"Do not seek any permission when it comes to the killing of the Americans," he said. "Fighting the devil doesn't need a religious edict, deliberation, prayer or guidance. They are the party of the devil and fighting them is the personal duty of our times.

"We reached that moment when it is either us or them. We are two opposites that will never meet. They want something that cannot happen unless they wipe us out. This is a decisive battle. This is the battle of Moses and pharaoh. This is the battle of righteousness and falsehood."

Meanwhile, in Washington, attorneys for al-Awlaki's father, Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, told a federal judge he should stop the government from "investing in President Obama the authority to assassinate any American citizen anywhere in the world based on a decision by the president alone."

The attorneys for the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights tried to persuade U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in Washington to issue an injunction to prevent the government from the targeted killing of al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Lawyers for the government, meanwhile, refused to confirm that the cleric is on a secret "kill list" or that such a list even exists, but they didn't hold back from blasting the plaintiff's lawyers.

"It's ridiculous to assert this would allow the the president to assassinate any American. That's absurd," declared Justice Department attorney Doug Letter.

The exchange came at the close of nearly three hours of tough questioning by the judge, who appeared clearly skeptical of the request for an injunction. When it ended, he informed the parties it would take him some time to sift through the case and fashion a ruling.

"Don't look for it in a matter of days," Bates said.

Both sides agreed the case was unprecedented in its potential scope.

The government argued the plaintiffs were asking to be "looking over the shoulder of the president" as he was making his decision on who to target with Predator drones. But attorneys for al-Awlaki's father said they were simply trying to ensure there were appropriate standards being applied.

Much of the legal debate was devoted to procedural threshold questions about whether al-Awlaki's father has the legal standing to try to stop the government from targeting his son.

One of the bizarre facts in this case is that while the son repudiates the U.S. legal system, declaring it has no jurisdiction over Muslims, his father is using that very court system on behalf of his son. During arguments, Letter, on behalf of the government, twice declared that if the al-Awlaki turns himself in, he would not be killed or physically harmed.

Government officials quietly acknowledge there is little chance of that, but the administration wants it on the record that they tried to end the search for al-Awlaki without bloodshed.

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.