CAIRO — A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaida, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group.

Anwar Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths – and encourage them – by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”

“Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the December attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner bound for Detroit because it targeted civilians.

Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in his parents’ native Yemen, has used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.

Al-Awlaki has emerged as a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, the suspects in the November shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, and the December airliner plot.

For U.S. officials, al-Awlaki is of particular concern because he is one of the few English-speaking radical clerics able to explain to young Muslims in America and other Western countries the philosophy of violent jihad.

Al-Awlaki’s direct role in al-Qaida – if any – remains unclear. The United States says he is an active participant in the group, although members of his tribe have denied that.

However, Sunday’s video provides the clearest link yet between the cleric and the terror group.

It was produced by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm, which touted the recording as its first interview with al-Awlaki. It may also indicate al-Qaida is trying to seize upon al-Awlaki’s recruiting prowess by featuring him in its videos.

In the months before the Fort Hood shooting, which killed 13 people, al-Awlaki exchanged e-mails with the alleged attacker, U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by al-Awlaki’s Internet sermons, and approached him for religious advice.

Yemen’s government says al-Awlaki is also suspected of contacts with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who traveled to Yemen late last year, and U.S. investigators say Abdulmutallab told them he received training and his bomb from Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot.

In Sunday’s video, al-Awlaki praised both men and referred to them as his “students.”

Speaking of Hasan, the cleric said, “What he did was heroic and great. …  I ask every Muslim serving in the U.S. Army to follow suit.”