US officials said Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical cleric linked to al-Qaida, has been killed by an airstrike in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki, 40, was seen as especially dangerous because his internet savvy and English-fluency made it easier for him to draw recruits to attack the United States. His sermons urging such attacks were widely circulated among militants in the West.

Although the Yemeni strike is seen as the biggest US success in hitting al-Qaida’s leadership since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan several months ago, civil liberties groups have raised questions about the killing of an American citizen who has not been charged with any crime.

However, American officials say al-Awlaki was a key figure in organizing terrorist attacks, such as the so-called underwear bombing attempt by a Nigerian on an American-bound plane in 2009.

“For the past several years, al-Awlaki has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been,” said US Rep. Peter King, a Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “The killing of al-Awlaki is a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community.”

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[Associated Press]