Though it’s never something to rejoice, 2011 may be most remembered for the demise of some controversial figures. Their deaths sparked both celebration and anger; they had fanatical supporters but many more who loathed them and what they stood for. Here is a look back at the significance of the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Gadhafi.
Osama bin Laden killed on May 2 – Enemy number 1 for many Western governments, the al Qaeda leader managed to remain hidden despite a worldwide manhunt to track him down after he planned the September 11th attacks. Nearly 10 years after that tragic day, a search by the CIA finally tracked him down to a compound in Pakistan. With the go-ahead from President Obama, Seal Team 6 launched a night raid on the compound in the city of Abbottabad and killed bin Laden.
Anwar al-Awlaki killed on September 30 – If Osama bin Laden was the heart and soul of al Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki was its voice. The English-speaking propagandist was famed for his ability to speak to and inspire jihadists around the world, prompting President Obama to approve the first-ever targeted killing of a U.S. citizen. The American-born cleric had managed to escape at least two previous assassination attempts, before being killed by a Predator drone in Yemen.
Moammar Gadhafi killed on October 20 – In the eyes of Americans, the Libyan leader alternated between potential North African ally and the “mad dog” of the Middle East – but to many in his country he was simply a brutal dictator. As the Arab Spring spread to Libya, protests turned to outright rebellion as civilians and some army units took up arms against pro-Gadhafi forces. After months of heavy fighting, support from NATO forces helped the rebels overthrow the Gadhafi regime and, a month later, Gadhafi was found in his hometown of Sirte. Cell phone video captured his final moments.