US Born radical cleric took winding path to become ‘Pied Piper of jihadists’

Born in New Mexico and raised in Yemen, Anwar Awlaki learned to preach in the U.S. As a young man, he studied in several U.S. states, including California.

At the local mosque where he preached, he delighted in playing soccer with young children and taking the teenagers paint-balling. “He had an allure. He was charming,” Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director of an Islamic center in Falls Church, Va., where Awlaki later gave sermons, told reporters in 2009.
With his fashionable eyeglasses and fluent English, the U.S.-born radical cleric also had been called a “Pied Piper of jihadists,” an Internet phenomenon who produced video and audio recordings to lure Westerners to his extremist ideologies. Awlaki, who had been linked to several terrorist plots in the U.S., was killed Friday in a joint CIA-military airstrike, U.S. officials said. He was 40.

His was born in 1971 in Las Cruces, N.M., where his father had moved from Yemen to study agricultural economics at New Mexico State University. At 7, Awlaki returned with his family to Yemen, and his father served as the country’s agriculture minister.