I was Fort Hood killer’s confidant, says cleric

Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki says he did not order the killing, but that it was ‘permissable under Islam’

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 07:32 ON Tue 17 Nov 2009

The radical American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, long suspected by US intelligence of having direct ties with al-Qaeda, considered himself a "confidant" of the US Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 people in a shooting spree at the Fort Hood army base on November 5.

Al-Awlaki, tracked down to his new home in an extremist stronghold in southern Yemen, told a representative of the Washington Post: "It was clear from his emails that Nidal trusted me."

He said the emails had begun in December 2008 with Maj Hasan asking if Al-Awlaki remembered him from the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia where the cleric used to teach in 2001 and where Hasan and his family once worshipped.

Not recalling Hasan, al-Awlaki did not respond at first. But after Hasan sent two or three further emails, the cleric said he "started to remember who he was" and began to answer Hasan's correspondence.

It became clear from the emails that Hasan had become a devout Muslim and had a good knowledge of Sharia law. "Nidal told me: 'I speak with you about issues that I never speak with anyone else.'"

However, al-Awlaki would not comment on whether Hasan had ever mentioned that he might target his colleagues at Fort Hood.

Al-Awlaki refused to be interviewed directly by an American journalist with the Washington Post but agreed to talk to a Yemeni journalist and terrorism expert, Abdulelah Hider Shaea, working on behalf of the paper.

Al-Awlaki insisted that he had not ordered the Fort Hood shooting nor put any pressure on Hasan to harm Americans.

Asked by Sheae why he had written on his website in the immediate aftermath of the killing that Hasan was a "hero," al-Awlaki said: "I blessed the act because it was against a military target. And the soldiers who were killed were not normal soldiers, but those who were trained and prepared to go to Afghanistan and Iraq."

He said Hasan's action was allowed under Islam because it was a form of jihad. "There are some people in the United States who said this shooting has nothing to do with Islam, that it was not permissible under Islam. But I would say it is permissible... America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries."

Given that al-Awlaki has been under observation by US intelligence since the time of 9/11 - he is known to have met with at least two of the hijackers at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque - and given the nature of the emails, more questions are likely to be asked as to why intelligence agents did not react with more urgency to the correspondence between the two men.

The FBI was recently reported to have concluded that the emails posed no serious danger and that an investigation was unnecessary. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.