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Panetta: American-Born Cleric Linked to Terror Plots Has 'Declared War' on U.S.

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CIA Director Leon Panetta speaks at the Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn, Mich., Sept. 16, 2009. (AP Photo)

CIA Director Leon Panetta said Sunday that the American-born cleric tied to several recent terror plots on U.S. soil has "declared war" on the United States and will be treated as a terrorist despite his U.S. citizenship. 

Panetta denied claims that Anwar al-Awlaki is on an "assassination list," but said al-Awlaki -- who is believed to be hiding in Yemen and taking on an operational terrorist role -- is engaged in a campaign to encourage attacks on the United States. 

"We have a terrorist list and he's on it," Panetta said. 

Speaking with ABC's "This Week," Panetta affirmed that several terror plots can be traced back to the radical cleric, who last month called for the killing of American civilians in a video released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. 

"Awlaki is a terrorist who has declared war on the United States. Everything he's doing now is to try to encourage others to attack this country -- there's a whole stream of intelligence that goes back to Awlaki and his continuous urging of others to attack this country in some way," Panetta said. "Awlaki is a terrorist and, yes, he's a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we're going to treat him like a terrorist." 

Panetta noted the ties between al-Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged Christmas Day bomber, and said the cleric has "urged" and "influenced" other attacks. 

Maj. Nidal Hasan, facing charges for the deadly Fort Hood shootings last November, was tied to the cleric as was Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad

Panetta cited those kinds of plots, all attempted or carried out in the United States, in warning that Al Qaeda is finding new and dangerous ways to attack the country. He detailed three tactics the terror group is using: finding people who have "no record of terrorism," like Abdulmutallab, to carry out attacks; finding people who are already inside the United States, like Shahzad; and allowing individuals to "self-radicalize." 

"Hasan did that in the Fort Hood shootings," Panetta said. "Those are the kinds of threats that we see and we're getting intelligence that shows that's the kind of stream of threats that we face, much more difficult to track. At the same time, I think we're doing a good job of moving against those threats. ... But that area, those kinds of threats represent I think the most serious threat to the United States right now."

Al-Awlaki, whose immigrant parents were from Yemen, was born in New Mexico and preached as an imam in California and Virginia before leaving the country.