Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki , a Yemeni religious scholar, has told Al Jazeera that the suspect accused of attempting to blow up a US passenger jet on Christmas Day, was one of his students.
Al-Awlaki said that he did not order the attempted suicide attack on the airliner, but that US civilians were legitimate targets since they bore responsibility for their "government's crimes".
"Omar Farouq, may Allah free him, is one of my students ... But I did not issue a fatwa [religious edict] allowing him to carry out this operation," the US-born al-Awlaki said in an exclusive interview.
Farouq, a young British-educated Nigerian, currently in US custody for allegedly trying to detonate explosives stitched to his underwear as the plane carrying about 300 people made its descent to Detroit airport, has reportedly told US investigators that al-Awlaki had directed him to explode the bomb.
"I support what he did after I have been seeing my brothers being killed in Palestine for more than 60 years, and others being killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan," al-Awlaki said.
"And in my tribe too, US missiles have killed 17 women and 23 children, so do not ask me if al-Qaeda has killed or blown up a US civil jet after all this," he said.
Al-Awlaki said it "would have been better" if the plane targeted in the attempted attack was a military one or a "US military target", but that the American people were "responsible for their policies" and therefore legitimate targets.
"The American people are the ones who have voted twice for [President George] Bush the criminal, and elected [President Barack] Obama who is not different from Bush.
"The American people take part in all its government's crimes ... They pay the taxes which are spent on the army and they send their sons to the military, and that is why they bear responsibility," he told Al Jazeera.
Al-Awlaki has been linked to a number of attacks in the US and Europe, including the November shootings at the US Fort Hood military base in Texas, in which Nidal Hasan, a US army psychiatrist, was charged with killing 13 people.
A US security official told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday: "Anwar al-Awlaki is a member of the al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen ... We believe that he should be captured, tried and convicted."
Al-Awlaki also said that he considered Yemen to be occupied by US forces.
"US drones continuously fly over Yemen. What state is that which allows its enemy to spy on its people and then considers it as 'accepted co-operation?'.
|Omar Farouq is accused of attempting to blow up a US airliner flying into Detroit [AFP]
"Yemeni officials tell the Americans to strike whatever they want and ask them not to announce responsibility for the attacks to avoid people’s rage," he said.
Yemen's national security agency has said al-Awlaki is based in Yemen's remote Shabwa province, protected by a family tribe that controls the region.
"Some people and governments are distinguished by certain qualities; as you may say this person is tall, and that is stubborn, the Yemeni government's special quality is lying.
"It lies to its people, to its neighbours and to America ... It lies to everyone," he said.
A former imam in Denver, Colorado, and San Diego, California, al-Awlaki said the US was a "tyrant", and that "tyrants across history have all had terrible ends".
"I believe the West does not want to realise this universal fact," he said.
"Muslims in Europe and America are watching what is happening to Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and they will take revenge for all Muslims across the globe."