Fort Hood suspect reached out to radical imam

Official says contacts weren’t deemed as threat

A man prepared a message to the wounded and families of the victims of the Fort Hood shootings yesterday in Killeen, Texas. A man prepared a message to the wounded and families of the victims of the Fort Hood shootings yesterday in Killeen, Texas. (Jessica Rinaldi/ Reuters)
By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press / November 10, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Army psychiatrist accused of the Fort Hood massacre reached out to communicate with a radical imam overseas who in the past came under scrutiny for possible links to terror groups, a US official said yesterday.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan sent electronic communications to the imam, Anwar al Awlaki, according to this official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. Awlaki, who was released from a jail in Yemen last year, writes a blog which, among other things, denounces US policies as anti-Muslim.

Hasan’s messages were picked up by US counterterrorism officials but an inquiry into the matter was shelved because the contacts were not deemed to suggest a threat, this official said. Investigators are now trying to determine whether Hasan has any links to terrorist groups.

Investigative officials said yesterday that Hasan, 39, apparently acted alone and without outside direction in the attack. They said they still had not determined a motive. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation on the record.

Hasan will be charged in a military court, they said.

Authorities say Hasan, fired off more than 100 rounds Thursday at a soldier-processing center. Fifteen victims remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and eight were in intensive care.

Awlaki, now living in Yemen, was a spiritual leader at two mosques where three 9/11 hijackers worshiped and had contact with two of them. He praised Hasan as a hero on his personal website yesterday.

The posting said American Muslims who condemned the Fort Hood attack are hypocrites who have committed treason against their religion. Awlaki said the only way a Muslim can justify serving in the US military is if he intends to “follow in the footsteps of men like Nidal.’’

“Nidal Hassan [sic] is a hero,’’ Awlaki said. “He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.’’

Two US intelligence officials confirmed the website was Awlaki’s. Awlaki did not respond to an attempt to contact him through the site.

Hasan’s family attended the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., where Awlaki was preaching in 2001. Hasan’s mother’s funeral was held at the mosque on May 31, 2001, according to her obituary in the Roanoke Times newspaper, around the same time two 9/11 hijackers worshipped at the mosque and while Awlaki was preaching.

The Falls Church mosque is one of the largest on the East Coast, and thousands of worshipers attend prayers and services there every week.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at Dar al Hijrah, said he did not know whether Hasan ever attended the mosque but confirmed that the Hasan family participated in services there. Abdul-Malik said the Hasans were not leaders at the mosque and their attendance was normal.

Abdul-Malik also denounced statements from Awlaki praising Hasan. Abdul-Malik said the radical iman was employed by the mosque from January 2001 to April 2002. He said staff members observed Hasan attend prayer services at the mosque after his mother’s death in 2001. He said they noticed Hasan being “disoriented’’ and distant.

A lawyer for Hasan said yesterday he asked investigators not to question his client and expressed doubt that the suspect would be able to get a fair trial, given the widespread attention to the case.

Retired Colonel John P. Galligan said he was contacted yesterday by Hasan’s family and was headed to an Army hospital in San Antonio to meet Hasan. “Until I meet with him, it’s best to say we’re just going to protect all of his rights,’’ Galligan said.

Hasan is at Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was in stable condition yesterday and able to talk, hospital spokesman Dewey Mitchell said.

Galligan said he didn’t know whether Hasan had been medically cleared to talk. “There’s a lot of facts that still need to be developed, and the time for that will come in due course,’’ he said.

Galligan questioned whether Hasan could get a fair trial in either criminal or military court, given President Obama’s planned visit to the base today and comments by the post commander, Lieutenant General Robert Cone.

“You’ve got his commander in chief showing up tomorrow,’’ Galligan said yesterday. “That same kind of publicity naturally creates an issue as to whether you find a fair and impartial forum, whether that’s in the military or even if it were in a federal forum.’’