The Muslim U.S. Army major accused of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood last Thursday was a “hero” who faced a choice of betraying his nation or betraying Islam, according to a radical U.S.-born cleric whose possible links with Maj. Nidal Hasan are now under investigation.
The cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, led a Northern Virginia mosque in 2001 which Hasan attended – along with three of the 9/11 hijackers.
Questioned but not arrested after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki is now based in Yemen, from where his online lectures have been inspiring jihadists in the years since the bombings on U.S. soil.
London’s Sunday Telegraph first reported at the weekend that Hasan had attended the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church during Awlaki’s tenure in 2001. Officials subsequently told U.S. media outlets investigators were looking into possible links between Awlaki and Hasan.
In a posting on his website Monday, Awlaki praised Hasan, calling him “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.”
He criticized U.S. Muslim organizations for condemning the shooting attack, calling them hypocrites and – quoting from the Koran – saying “painful punishment” awaited them.
Around the time Hasan was attending the Awlaki-run Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center, so too were three of the 9/11 hijackers: Hasan is known to have been going to the mosque in May 2001, as his mother’s funeral took place there that month; according to the 9/11 Commission report, 9/11 terrorists Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour started going to the mosque in early April 2001.
They and a third Saudi who also attended the mosque, Khalid al-Mihdhar, were among the five hijackers onboard American Airlines Flight 77 which took off from Dulles and was flown into the Pentagon on September 11.
Awlaki was questioned by the FBI after the attacks but information against him was not considered strong enough to support a criminal prosecution, the 9/11 Commission report said.
By the time the commission’s investigators tried to interview him in 2003, he had moved to Yemen. The commission’s attempts to arrange interviews with the help of the U.S. and Yemeni governments were unsuccessful.
The commission expressed strong suspicions about Awlaki (his name is rendered “Aulaqi” in the report), noting the “remarkable coincidence” that he had also had dealings with one of the three hijackers during his pre-Virginia posting, at a mosque in San Diego.