The radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the former leader of a local mosque and a man who evaded San Diego’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2002, continues to make newspaper headlines.

On Sunday, The New York Times published an in-depth profile of al-Awlaki, who name has also been spelled “al-Aulaqi.” He purportedly inspired Faisal Shahzad, the suspect of a recently foiled car bomb attempt in Times Square, through “online lectures urging jihad as a religious duty.”

The Times’ story focused mostly on al-Awlaki’s transformation as a bridge between Islam and Western culture to an outspoken cleric, declaring war against the United States and recruiting al-Qaeda.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times’ story, highlighting some of al-Awlaki’s time in San Diego:

At 25, he landed for five years at Arribat al-Islami, a stucco building with blue-green tile under a towering palm tree at the edge of San Diego. “He lit up when he was with the youth,” said Jamal Ali, 40, an airport driver. He played soccer with younger children and took teenagers paintballing. “I saw him evolving in trying to understand where he fit into Islam,” Mr. Ali said.

Lincoln W. Higgie III, 71, an art dealer who lived across quiet Saranac Street from the mosque and the small adjoining house where Mr. Awlaki lived with his wife and two toddlers, recalls an engaging neighbor who apologized about parking problems that came with the flood of Friday worshipers.

On Thursdays, Mr. Higgie remembered, Mr. Awlaki liked to go fishing for albacore, and he would often bring over a sample of the catch, deliciously prepared by his wife. The Awlakis’ son and daughter would play on Mr. Higgie’s floor, chasing his pet macaw, while the men compared notes on their travels.

The story says San Diego police twice picked up al-Awlaki for soliciting prostitutes and discusses his now-famous connections to the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The NYT also throws in this tidbit about his mysterious goodbye:

One day in August 2001, Mr. Awlaki knocked at the door of Mr. Higgie, his neighbor, to say goodbye. He had moved the previous year to Virginia, becoming imam at the far bigger Dar al-Hijrah mosque, and he had returned to pick up a few things he had left behind.

As Mr. Higgie tells it, he told the imam to stop by if he was ever in the area — and got a strange response. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why,’” Mr. Higgie said.

The next month, when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington, Mr. Higgie remembered the exchange and was shaken, convinced that his friendly neighbor had some advance warning of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In December, we wrote about al-Awlaki’s connection to the Fort Hood massacre and the blame game over e-mails exchanged between the Fort Hood shooter and al-Awlaki.


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