Describing the death of al Qaeda's top spiritual leader Anwar al-Awlaki as a "major blow" to the terror group, US President Barack Obama has said that it marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat the outfit and its affiliates.
"The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda's most active operational affiliate. Awlaki was the leader of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans," Obama said.
He made the remarks on Friday at an event held to bid farewell to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hours after Awlaki, a Yemeni origin American engineer, was killed in a US drone attack in Yemen.
"The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Furthermore, the success is a tribute to our intelligence community and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces, who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years," the President underlined.
Obama said Awlaki had directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He had also directed the failed attempt to blow up US cargo planes in 2010.
"And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda," the President said.
In his reaction, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US is much safer now.
"This has been a bad year for terrorists. We just have seen a another major blow to al-Qaeda, someone who was truly an operational arm of al-Qaeda in this node of Yemen," Panetta told reporters here.