A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.
The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.
It was the first American strike in Yemen using a remotely piloted drone since 2002, when the C.I.A. struck a car carrying a group of suspected militants, including an American citizen, who were believed to have Qaeda ties. And the attack came just three days after American commandos invaded a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda.
The attack on Thursday was part of a clandestine Pentagon program to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group believed responsible for a number of failed attempts to strike the United States, including the thwarted plot to blow up a transatlantic jet on Dec. 25, 2009, as it was preparing to land in Detroit.
Although Mr. Awlaki is not thought to be one of the group’s senior leaders, he has been made a target by American military and intelligence operatives because he has recruited English-speaking Islamist militants to Yemen to carry out attacks overseas. His radical sermons, broadcast on the Internet, have a large global following.
The Obama administration has taken the rare step of approving Mr. Awlaki’s killing, even though he is an American citizen.
Troops from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command are in charge of the mission in Yemen, with the help of the C.I.A. Over the past two years, the military has carried out strikes in Yemen using cruise missiles from Navy ships and munitions from Marine Harrier jets.
Thursday’s strike was the first known attack in the country by the American military for nearly a year. Last May, American missiles mistakenly killed a provincial government leader, and the Pentagon strikes were put on hold.
More recently, officials have worried that American military strikes in Yemen might further stoke widespread unrest that has imperiled the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.