Obama: Anwar al-Awlaki's death a "major blow" to al Qaeda and affiliates

President Barack Obama speaking about the death of jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, at the White House, Friday, September 30, 2011. CBS

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was in the top ranks of al Qaeda's franchise in Yemen, marks "another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates," President Obama said today.

The American-born, radical Islamic preacher was killed Friday in Yemen in a CIA-directed strike upon his convoy. Al-Awlaki is the most prominent al Qaeda figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden, and Mr. Obama said his death represents a "major blow" to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qeada's most active operational affiliate.

Speaking at the retirement ceremony for Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr. Obama said that al-Awlaki "took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans," such as the attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010.

The president called the killing of al-Awlaki a tribute to the U.S. intelligence community and the efforts of leaders in Yemen. He said al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains "a dangerous but weakened terrorist organization."

"Make no mistake, this is further proof al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven in Yemen or anywhere around the world," Mr. Obama said.

Republican leaders on Friday praised the dealth of al-Awlaki and Mr. Obama's leadership. GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry called al-Awlaki's death "an important victory in the war on terror."

"I want to congratulate the United States military and intelligence communities - and President Obama for sticking with the government's longstanding and aggressive anti-terror policies - for getting another key international terrorist," Perry said in a statement.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called the killing of al-Awlaki "another great step forward in breaking the back of Al Qaeda."

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called it "a great success in our fight against al-Qaeda" and "a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community."

The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, decried the killing of an American citizen who was never charged with a crime.

"The government's authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement. "It is a mistake to invest the President - any President - with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country."

One other American militant, Samir Khan, was killed alongside al-Awlaki in Friday's attack, which killed four individuals.

Update: In a radio interview with Michael Smerconish on Friday afternoon, Mr. Obama declined to say whether he gave the order to kill al-Awlaki, saying he could not discuss operational details.

"This is something that we had been working with the Yemeni government on for quite some time," he said. "There's been significant cooperation at the intelligence levels with a lot of countries in the region. We are very pleased that Mr. Awlaki is no longer going to be in a position to directly threaten the United States homeland, as well as our allies around the world."

He continued, "The fact that he is now no longer around to initiate the kind of propaganda that also was recruiting people all around the world to that murderous cause I think is something that's very good for American security."

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