Increasingly, Mr. Awlaki is being depicted by Western intelligence officials as a threat on the scale of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Mr. Awlaki was the only militant leader singled out this week in the first public speech ever made by a head of Britain’s MI6. Sir John Sawers, the current MI6 chief, described “reading, every day, intelligence reports describing the plotting of terrorists who are bent on maiming and murdering people in this country,” and cited Mr. Awlaki and Yemen as increasingly dangerous. “From his remote base in Yemen,” he said, Mr. Awlaki “broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the Internet.” Mr. Gohel, the terrorism analyst, said the importance of Mr. Awlaki and the Yemen-based Qaeda group he leads rested on the fact that they operate independently from the leadership of the main branch of Al Qaeda, with their own membership, cell structure and finances.
“I’ve been saying for the past year that al-Awlaki is the most dangerous ideologue in the world,” Mr. Gohel said. “Unlike bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, he doesn’t need subtitles on his videos to indoctrinate and influence young people in the West.” Because he was born and raised in the United States, and lived for two years in Britain, Mr. Awlaki “understands the Western mindset — he has a better grip than bin Laden and Zawahiri when it comes to plotting terrorist attacks,” he said.
In his Internet harangues, Mr. Awlaki thrives in showing off his familiarity with Western culture, citing from Dickens and Shakespeare, among others. “Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea,” he said in one of his addresses this year.