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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript


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COSTELLO: Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has released a statement in part saying and I quote, "For the past several years, al-Awlaki has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been."

Congressman King actually is on the phone right now. He joins us live.

Congressman King, tell us -- how important is this kill?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK (via telephone): Absolutely vital. Earlier this year, while bin Laden was still alive, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Mike Leiter, testified before the Homeland Security Committee that Awlaki was significantly more dangerous than bin Laden. That he'd become the leading terrorist in the world, that he was the greatest threat to our country.

The main reason being, he was American. He understood American life, American idiom. He was really involved one way or the other since September 11th. He was actively recruiting, you mentioned the Christmas Day bombing. The Fort Hood attacks. There have been a series of arrest around the country, including this last year in New York, people linked to Awlaki.

He was attempting to link up with al Shabaab in Somalia. So, he was emerging clearly in the al Qaeda world as one of their top leaders. He was actually not even the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but he was the most dynamic leader.

And I can tell you that U.S. intelligence officials were most, most concerned about Awlaki. In fact, my committee, we had a hearing scheduled for later next month on the extent from Awlaki.

ROMANS: You have been briefed for sometime now about efforts to get him. You are the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. I assume you will likely be briefed again on details of this attack later on today perhaps sometime.

Are you assuming this was a drone strike?

KING: I certainly am assuming that U.S. intelligence was involved. It was either a drone attack or a bomb attack. My understanding was at 3:00, 4:00, a convoy.

And, you know, we almost got him several times before. We have been very aggressive in Yemen.

I give President Obama tremendous credit on this. He signed the order basically saying get Awlaki dead or alive, whether or not he was an American citizen. Even though he was American citizen, still, he allowed our people to target him. It was the right decision to make.

And, again, it's significant victory for us and I will urge, I'm sure the administration will do it, is to keep the pressure on before al Qaeda and any of its elements get the chance to reconstitute themselves.

COSTELLO: Yes, we were looking at the FIB most wanted list and there are plenty of people still on that list.

Who is the next target? I mean, who should we be worried about now?

KING: Well, obviously, we're going after Zawahiri. He's number one man in al Qaeda central. But there's any number of others out there. You know, names that aren't always highlighted -- top tier, second tier.

And, again, even though people were killed, al Qaeda is still a threat. Having said that, the more we can diminish them, the more we can keep them on defense and the more we can keep them in hiding, the harder it is for them to reconstitute themselves.

At the same time because of the charismatic following that Awlaki had in this country, we have to be very much on our guard against the revenge killing right now because they will definitely want to avenge this.

COSTELLO: Yes, he was a good recruiting tool for al Qaeda and for extremism. But there are plenty of operational people out there making bombs and teaching people how to make bombs right now, right?

KING: Oh, yes. This threat has metastasized. It's no longer this operating out of Afghanistan. Awlaki was an example of this, but a number of other operatives all over the world, including people in this country who al Qaeda has attempted to recruit. So, no, it's still a massive threat to our country, but it's been diminished. It began during the Bush administration. It's continued in the Obama administration of keeping them on defense, going after them, killing them whenever we can.

COSTELLO: Congressman Peter King, thank you for joining us live. We appreciate it.

KING: Thank you.


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