He was al-Qaida's pied piper, a gifted writer and preacher whose words were a siren's call to violent jihad for young Muslims around the world. Though he was never known to fire a shot, Anwar al-Awlaki was linked to more terrorist plots against U.S. and other Western targets in the past five years than Osama bin Laden himself.
The U.S.-born Muslim cleric played key roles in the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage in 2009 that killed 13 people, as well as last year's foiled attempt to put bombs on cargo planes bound to the United States.
His words led a young Nigerian to attempt to blow up a jetliner over Detroit, and inspired an unemployed Pakistani man to drive a bomb-laden vehicle into the heart of New York's Times Square.
In between, al-Awlaki. 40, regularly exhorted Western Muslims to attack without waiting for outside guidance or instruction. "Fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers," he once declared.
So effective was his message that the CIA last year put him on the agency's official target list, making him the first American citizen to be designated for death, wherever he could be found, without judicial process.
"He was one of a kind," said Jarret Brachman, a counterterrorism expert and consultant on al-Qaida for government agencies and private companies. "His message was so accessible, so engaging and so compelling. It was irresistible for a lot of people who sat on the fence and just needed a catalyst to push them over."
A senior U.S. government official described him simply as "one of al-Qaida's most dangerous terrorists."
His death Friday by drone strike in a remote corner of Yemen ended a short but colorful career as a prominent propagandist and strategic thinker for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of the bin Laden-led Jihadist group that emerged in the last decade as one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world.
Awlaki, became both the public face of the AQAP group and also a private adviser and counselor to young Muslims seeking to carry out attacks on al-Qaida's behalf.
After the death of bin Laden in May, some terrorism experts looked to Awlaki as a possible new global leader of al-Qaida.