Boston Marathon attackers believed to be inspired by terror leader who once called San Diego home

Jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki once preached in El Cajon

SAN DIEGO - Boston Marathon bombing suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has started to answer questions from authorities, reportedly telling agents that he built the pressure cooker bombs used in the attack almost entirely from the Internet, with no direction from terrorists overseas.

Authorities told ABC News the brothers used instructions from an al-Qaida Internet magazine to make the pressure cooker bombs.

Tsarnaev was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and he could face the death penalty if convicted. Three people were killed in the bombing and more than 200 were left wounded.

His older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed Friday morning after a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass.

Authorities said they believe that the bombing may have been inspired by al-Qaida and the preaching of radical jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki, who had connections to San Diego, including studying at San Diego State University and preaching at an El Cajon mosque.

Al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born terrorist leader in al-Qaida's outpost in Yemen, was reported killed in a September 2011 drone strike.

According to The New York Times, al-Awlaki moved to San Diego in 1996, and lived in a home near 70th Street and El Cajon Boulevard. 

ABC News reported that Al-Awlaki was twice arrested for soliciting prostitutes in San Diego. He pled guilty both times, paying a fine and attending an AIDs awareness class for the first offense. He performed community service and served three years of probation for the second offense.

Al-Awlaki played a "significant operational role" in plotting and inspiring attacks on the United States, U.S. officials said, as they disclosed detailed intelligence to justify the killing of a U.S. citizen.

A U.S. official outlined details of al-Awlaki's involvement in anti-U.S. operations, including the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound aircraft. The official said that al-Awlaki specifically directed the men accused of trying to bomb the Detroit-bound plane to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.

The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.

The U.S. and counterterrorism officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

Al-Awlaki was killed by the same U.S. military unit that got Osama bin Laden. Al-Awlaki is the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since bin Laden's death in May 2011.

The air strike was carried out more openly than the covert operation that sent Navy SEALs into bin Laden's Pakistani compound, U.S. officials said.

Al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, who had not been charged with any crime. Civil liberties groups have questioned the government's authority to kill an American without trial.

Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki of Yemen, had sued President Barack Obama and other administration officials to try to stop them from targeting his son for death. The father, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, argued that international law and the Constitution prevented the administration from assassinating his son unless he presented a specific imminent threat to life or physical safety and there were no other means to stop him.

But U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out the lawsuit, saying a judge does not have authority to review the president's military decisions and that Awlaki's father did not have the legal right to sue on behalf of his son. But Bates also seemed troubled by the facts of the case, which he wrote raised vital considerations of national security and for military and foreign affairs. For instance, the judge questioned why courts have authority to approve surveillance of Americans overseas but not their killing and whether the president could order an assassination of a citizen without "any form of judicial process whatsoever."

U.S. officials have said they believe al-Awlaki inspired the actions of Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas.

In New York, the Pakistani-American man who pleaded guilty to the May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt said he was "inspired" by al-Awlaki after making contact over the Internet.

Al-Awlaki also is believed to have had a hand in mail bombs addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, packages intercepted in Dubai and Europe in October 2010.

In addition to preaching in El Cajon, Al-Awlaki also served as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb, for about a year in 2001.

The mosque's outreach director, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, has said that mosque members never saw al-Awlaki espousing radical ideology while he was there and that he believes Awlaki's views changed after he left the U.S.

Print this article Back to Top