SANAA, YEMEN— With the house still quiet with slumber, the 15-year-old left a letter for his mother begging forgiveness, then crawled out a second-storey kitchen window and dropped to the garden below.
Abdulrahman al Awlaki crossed the front yard past potted plants and a carnival ride graveyard — Dumbo, Donald Duck, an arched seal balancing a beach ball — debris from his uncle Omar’s failed business venture to install rides in local shopping malls.
The family’s guard saw the grade nine student with a mop of curly hair leave the front gate at about 6:30 a.m. that morning on Sept. 4. Abdulrahman then made his way to the gates of Bab al-Yemen to catch a bus to a cousin’s house in Shabwa province in the south.
As he crossed the desert on his six-hour journey, his family awoke to news of his disappearance.
“He wrote to his mother, ‘I am sorry for leaving in this kind of way. Forgive me. I miss my father and want to see if I can go and talk to him,’ ” said the boy’s grandfather, Nasser al Awlaki, as he sipped tea in his lavish home. “ ‘I will be coming back in a few days.’ ”
“He was very obedient to everybody in the house,” said Awlaki, “and that’s why it was a surprise that he would make that kind of decision.”
Nine days later, Abdulrahman turned 16.
He never found his father, the radical online preacher Anwar al Awlaki, who a U.S. congresswoman had called “Terrorist Number One.”
The teen wasn’t even in the right part of the country.
On Sept. 30, CIA-directed hellfire missiles blasted a target in northern Yemen, killing his father and ending the two-year manhunt for the cleric whose preaching encouraged plots in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
Anwar al Awlaki was born in the United States, having grown up in the West after his father, Nasser, moved his family there to study.
Few mourned Awlaki’s death, but there was concern about the precedent. How could U.S. President Barack Obama order an American killed without any review?
There has been considerably less talk about what happened two weeks later.
On Oct. 14, U.S. drones pounded targets again, this time hundreds of kilometres away in the southeastern region of Azzan.
Abdulrahman, also born in the U.S., and his 17-year-old cousin were among the seven killed. They were apparently having a barbecue. More