Anwar al-Awlaki, a 39-year-old New Mexico native of Yemeni descent who serves as one of Al Qaeda’s top media strategists, has had an influential year since the CIA placed the cleric on its hit list earlier this year. He inspired Faisal Shahzad and another failed U.S. terrorist and called for the death of the guy behind “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” In order to explain his mass appeal in recruiting potential jihadists, NPR says intelligence officials placed Awlaki’s face on Justin Long’s body in a parody of one of those “I’m a Mac” commercials. The part of the PC was played by Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, the infamous Southern California kid who converted to Islam and joined Al Qaeda. Both Awlaki and Amriki have sharpened the organization’s media strategy with inside knowledge about American culture. Only Awlaki seems to be doing a much sleeker job.
Where Gadahn is an unengaging figure whose long-winded, overblown language (here’s one sample: “Barack, I know that as you slither snakelike into the second year of your reign”) make him sound “like a character out of The Lord of the Rings,” Awlaki has real charisma, which is why tens of thousands, or possibly millions, have watched his lectures online: