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Daniel Rich, Aceh After the Tsunami, 2005. Image courtesy of the artist.

Remembering Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Mellow Cat

When al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone attack late last month, friends and colleagues were left to mourn a man of generosity, humility, and an amazing porno collection.

Multiple U.S. sources have confirmed that American-born jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is dead, killed in a drone strike in Yemen that comes just months after the death of Osama bin Laden. —CBSNews.com, Sept. 30, 2011

Mamdouh Salim, recruitment and motivation officer for al Qaeda in Yemen:

He was just a mellow cat, very down to earth. Of course he was righteous in the cause and straight-up as a man can be, but he’d give you the dishdasha off his back and the kufi off his head, if it came to that. Very observant of the holidays, very clean, kept a strict halal diet and stayed in shape by regular cross-country running. I understand he was kind to animals, even when he lived in the States, where they torture them and make them fight each other as a form of culture. And what a porno collection he had! One of the best in the Arabian Peninsula, without a doubt.

Omar Atef, assistant photographer for Inspire, al Qaeda’s online magazine:

Once I tried to get him to pose for a photo shoot showing him at home in his apartment in Shabwa Province. I wanted to capture him modeling his latest wardrobe, mixing up some hummus, and proselytizing on the internet while hanging out with his devoted wife and 17 devout kids, but he was far too modest and ascetic to make such a splash. And I admired him for that. It’s too bad, though; an issue like that would have generated more online traffic than the internet versions of GQ and Vanity Fair combined.

Saleh al-Sowsain, munitions expert and nuclear proliferation trainee:

He took his success in stride. All that coverage we came to expect on CNN and FOX News meant little to him—he laughed about it! Of course, when he first came to Yemen from the States he was full of piss and vinegar. His beard wasn’t fully grown yet, and he was kind of wild-eyed. It was, “Kill him, kill them, radicalize everyone,” all the time. I thought, “This guy really needs to get laid!” But he turned out all right.

He didn’t ask any special privileges and didn’t lord it over the rank-and-file suicide bombers. If you were a woman, you didn’t need to be a virgin to approach him. Of course it helped.

Mounir Nasir, fundraiser and bake-sale organizer for the mujahedeen in Asia:

There was no vanity in the man. None of this, “I’m bigger than Osama now,” even though it might have been true. Or, “I’ve got a much bigger TV and laptop than No. 1.” Instead there was great modesty and the earnest desire to kill infidels, in about equal measure. Only once did I ever hear him speak disparagingly of bin Laden. It was after our leader was gunned down by the Americans. He said, “You mean he was living next door to an army base where U.S. commandos could easily come and go? That was dumb-ass.”

Faisel Narez, al Qaeda regional commander and sharia paralegal:

Sure, he was dedicated to the mission, but he wasn’t all up in your face every minute about the Caliphate or the Great Satan. He had his calmer moments when he preferred to talk about anything besides the umma, even former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, which he admired for its punctuation and font. As important as he became for al Qaeda’s international image and message, he didn’t ask any special privileges and didn’t lord it over the rank-and-file suicide bombers. If you were a woman, you didn’t need to be a virgin to approach him. Of course it helped. When I heard the Americans took him out, I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Hey, wait! He’s an American citizen! Isn’t that unconstitutional?”

Sharif Fonzi, cable TV and satellite dish installer, Huta, Yemen:

As an American, he had an amazing fund of hilarious Yankee jokes, and kept everyone in stitches. And the regional accents he could pull off! He liked to say, “How y’all doin’?” in Arabic, with a Tennessee accent. Laugh? I thought I’d die. And the collection of songs on his iPod was most eclectic. It was al-Awlaki who introduced me to Maroon 5, the coolest of bands.

Rashed Daoul Owhali, chauffeur, runner, and fortune-teller:

Al-Awlaki was simply at peace with the world. He knew his place in the universe and was as one with it. Once I drove us out of Marib, where he stayed for a time, on one of the few passable roads. We parked, and under a blank azure sky we chatted. I asked him why he kept looking upward—was he expecting a winged horse to descend from that blue expanse? “No, Rashed,” he replied. “Somewhere up there is an all-seeing drone carrying a Hellfire missile with my name on it, a missile that the citizens of America paid a million dollars for. But smart as that bomb is—and it’s plenty smart—it won’t find me, not today.” And he was right. That day.

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