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U.S. Nearly Assassinated Top Al Qaeda Leader Awlaki, Sources Say

Anwar Al Awlaki

This Oct. 2008 file photo by Muhammad ud-Deen shows Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. (AP)

The U.S. nearly took out Anwar Al-Awlaki, a top Al Qaeda target in Yemen, in an assassination attempt days after the killing of Usama bin Laden, senior U.S. defense and intelligence sources tell Fox News.

On May 5, Marine Harrier jets were sent on a mission to follow Awlaki using intelligence provided by Yemenis hoping to keep President Ali Abdullah Saleh in power. 

The aircraft were able to locate Awlaki traveling in a truck. But fuel storage and technical problems with the jets’ Griffin missiles – a new and improved version of a Hellfire missile -- caused the operation to fail and allowed him to escape.

Crews tracking Awlaki said they were unable to keep the missiles locked onto their targets, ABC News reports. The first missile launched missed its target completely.

The bumper of Awlaki’s truck was hit, ABC News reported, but he dodged assassination when he called Al Qaeda operatives to bring more vehicles into the area to confuse those tracking him. Awlaki then took the opportunity to jump out of his truck and move into another vehicle while U.S. aircraft were obscured by cloud cover.

A later missile destroyed the truck that Awlaki was originally inside, killing two men, according to the ABC News report.

Awlaki is one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists and a key leader of Al Qaeda's operations in Yemen.

Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.