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Anwar al-Awlaki’s Western Jihad

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens

ISBN 9780674979505

Publication date: 05/05/2020

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The definitive account of the career and legacy of the most influential Western exponent of violent jihad.

Anwar al-Awlaki was, according to one of his followers, “the main man who translated jihad into English.” By the time he was killed by an American drone strike in 2011, he had become a spiritual leader for thousands of extremists, especially in the United States and Britain, where he aimed to make violent Islamism “as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea.” Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens draws on extensive research among al-Awlaki’s former colleagues, friends, and followers, including interviews with convicted terrorists, to explain how he established his network and why his message resonated with disaffected Muslims in the West.

A native of New Mexico, al-Awlaki rose to prominence in 2001 as the imam of a Virginia mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers. After leaving for Britain in 2002, he began delivering popular lectures and sermons that were increasingly radical and anti-Western. In 2004 he moved to Yemen, where he eventually joined al-Qaeda and oversaw numerous major international terrorist plots. Through live video broadcasts to Western mosques and universities, YouTube, magazines, and other media, he soon became the world’s foremost English-speaking recruiter for violent Islamism. One measure of his success is that he has been linked to about a quarter of Islamists convicted of terrorism-related offenses in the United States since 2007.

Despite the extreme nature of these activities, Meleagrou-Hitchens argues that al-Awlaki’s strategy and tactics are best understood through traditional social-movement theory. With clarity and verve, he shows how violent fundamentalists are born.


  • Make no mistake, this is a very important book. The meticulously researched description of al-Awlaki’s ideology, his charisma, and his influence on a whole generation of Salafi jihadists should make this required reading for policymakers, practitioners, and academics alike. Anyone who is seriously interested in trying to understand what the future of global jihad might look like should pay very careful attention to the past, and I have seen no more coherent description nor compelling analysis than this. But beyond that, the very readability of this book should bring it to a wider audience. The narrative is incredibly powerful.

    —Peter Clarke, former Head of Counter Terrorism at New Scotland Yard and UK National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations, 2002–2008


  • Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is Lecturer in Terrorism and Radicalisation at King’s College London and Research Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He writes regularly for major periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic, including Foreign Affairs, Prospect, and Foreign Policy.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press