Officials are examining a connection between Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and an imam named Anwar al-Awlaki (sometimes spelled al-Aulaqi). Awlaki, who is American-born but currently in Yemen, formerly preached at a mosque in the Washington, DC, suburb of Falls Church, VA. Hasan attended the mosque, Dar al-Hijrah, in early 2001, when Awlaki was its spiritual leader. His services were also attended by three of the hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks, as the London Telegraph reports. The imam has a history of promoting al Qaeda's call for "global jihad" and his sermons have been found in the computer files of some terrorism suspects.
Awlaki praised Hasan's shooting in a blog post Monday morning (see below). His actual connection to Hasan remains an open question, and many observers urge caution in jumping to conclusions about Awlaki's influence.
- Awlaki's 'Virtual Bible' For Western Extremists Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann urges officials to look into "understanding to what degree al-Awlaki's extreme sermons may have influenced Hasan's actions." Kohlmann focuses on a lecture by al-Awlaki, adapted into English from an Arabic-language lecture by high-ranking al-Qaeda officer Yousef al-Ayyiri. Called "The Constants on the Path of Jihad," Kohlmann says that it "over time has become the 'virtual bible' for lone wolf Muslim extremists." Surveying the lengthy call for global Jihad, Kohlmann concludes, "It is thus perhaps little surprise that Anwar al-Awlaki's name and his sermon on 'Constants on the Path of Jihad' seem to surface in every single homegrown terrorism investigation, whether in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, or beyond."
- Don't Over-Emphasize Awlaki Spencer Ackerman cautions against attributing too much to al-Awlaki or the Virginia-based mosque, Dar Al-Hijrah, at which he used to preach. "Dar al-Hijrah, which I came across in reporting a couple of years ago about possible Falls Church links to terrorism, had an imam with murky connections to the 9/11 attackers. But, as an anonymous ex-counterterrorism official cautions to the Post, tons of people attended Dar al-Hijrah with no connection to al-Qaeda. What seems more important, judging from what's being reported about the Hasan investigation, is that the accused murderer apparently spent a lot of time on extremist Websites, which might have sharpened his focus."
- Much at Stake With Investigation The Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu and Carrie Johnson explain:
A challenge for investigators is sorting out a potential thicket of psychological, ideological or religious motivations behind Hasan's alleged actions. Hasan's possible contact with extremists such as Aulaqi would complicate matters, suggesting that U.S. authorities may have missed chances to prevent the cleric from instigating this incident and others. But if it turns out that Hasan acted in the throes of an emotional breakdown, his questionable ties could be misinterpreted in ways that damage U.S. outreach to the Muslim world or provoke an overreaction that divides Americans.
- Awlaki: 'Hasan Did the Right Thing' The controversial imam wrote on his blog:
Nidal Hassan is a hero. 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. This is a contradiction that many Muslims brush aside and just pretend that it doesn't exist. Any decent Muslim cannot live, understanding properly his duties towards his Creator and his fellow Muslims, and yet serve as a US soldier. The US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam. Its army is directly invading two Muslim countries and indirectly occupying the rest through its stooges.
Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.