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San Diego Worshipers Remember Awlaki As Spiritual Orator Who Connected With His Congregation

Local Muslim civil rights group is challenging the decision to assassinate Awlaki.

A one-time congregation member of former La Mesa cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki described him as a well-loved imam who mysteriously went astray.

There are two portraits of Awlaki’s time in San Diego: beloved imam, and spiritual adviser to terrorists.

One worshipper, who attended Awlaki’s sermons at the Al-Ribat Mosque in La Mesa, says Awlaki was popular because of his talks on the importance of connecting with God and his oratory skills in English and Arabic.

But intelligence officials say Awlaki acted as a spiritual coach to the two San Diego-based September 11th hijackers, preparing their minds for the attacks. The Muslim holy man may have had his weaknesses. San Diego police arrested him twice for soliciting prostitutes.

Edgar Hopida of the San Diego Council on American Islamic Relations condemned Awlaki’s espousal of violent jihad but says the U.S. government should not have killed him.

“Our main concern, however, and this should be a concern for all American citizens, is the fact that the U.S. government has committed an extrajudicial killing on its own citizens without due process of law," he said.

U.S. officials viewed Awlaki as America’s top terror threat even before Osama bin Laden’s death because of Awlaki’s ability to inspire home-grown terrorism.

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