SANAA, Yemen, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- There are no firm indications to suggest that U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is affiliated with al-Qaida, a provincial leader in Yemen said.
U.S. President Barack Obama sparked controversy in early 2010 when he placed Awlaki on Washington's hit list. The radical cleric allegedly contacted the would-be bomber of a Christmas flight to Detroit before the attack and the triggerman in the November killing spree in Fort Hood, Texas.
Thousands of Yemeni civilians have fled southern Shabwa province as the government takes part in operations meant to take on fighters with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the terrorist group.
Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi, the provincial governor of Shabwa, told Arabic news station al-Jazeera that despite the offensive, it was difficult to assess the damage done to the militants.
"It is very normal not to find them due to the mountainous terrain and the presence of caves," he said.
On Awlaki, the governor said he didn't have any information to suggest the radical cleric had ties to al-Qaida.
"So far, we have not received any official statement that confirms his affiliation with al-Qaida," he said. "His statements, however, whether or not he is affiliated with al-Qaida, are in harmony with al-Qaida's direction."