An al-Qaeda operative facing sentencing in a New York court next week said bomb-making instructor Anwar al-Awlaki had encouraged him to target Israeli and US nationals at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Before his death in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, the US-born al-Awlaki had emerged as an influential preacher among jihadists living in the West, with his English-language internet sermons calling for jihad, or holy war, against the US.
Al-Awlaki was the first American citizen whose killing by drone strike without trial was approved by US President Barack Obama.
Minh Quang Pham, a Vietnamese-British man who converted to Islam before joining al-Qaeda, said al-Awlaki urged him to use his bombs against Americans and Israelis, according to documents submitted to the court and reported upon by the New York Times this week.
Pham has pleaded guilty to three terror-related charges. He will be sentenced on Monday.
He told investigators of his meetings with al-Awlaki, who he called the most senior al-Qaeda figure in Yemen.
The Times noted that many critics of Obama’s policy have claimed al-Awlaki was a public figure but not active on the operational level. Pham’s testimony appeared to indicate otherwise.
Pham recalled training sessions with al-Awlaki, where the terrorist instructed him on how to synthesize explosives and how to construct bombs to create the most collateral damage.
When his training was completed, Pham was given $10,000 by al-Awlaki and told to carry out an attack at London’s Heathrow Airport. He specifically told him to target arrivals from the US or Israel, according to the report.
After returning to Britain, Pham had a change of heart and left the organization, abandoning the attack plans. Al-Awlaki’s influence has also been cited in other attacks, such as the Boston marathon bombings and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in early 2015.
AP contributed to this report.