WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON (AP) — A radical American imam on Yemen's most wanted militant list who had contact with two 9/11 hijackers praised alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as a hero on his personal Web site Monday.
The posting on the Web site for Anwar al Awlaki, who was a spiritual leader at two mosques where three 9/11 hijackers worshipped, said American Muslims who condemned the attacks on the Texas military base last week are hypocrites who have committed treason against their religion.
Awlaki said the only way a Muslim can justify serving in the U.S. military is if he intends to "follow in the footsteps of men like Nidal."
"Nidal Hassan (sic) 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," Awlaki wrote.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is accused of killing 13 and wounding 29 in a shooting spree Thursday. 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 Falls Church 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.
Awlaki is a native-born U.S. citizen who left the United States in 2002, eventually traveling to Yemen. He was released from a Yemeni jail last year and has since gone missing. He is on Yemen's most wanted militant list, according to three Yemeni security officials.
The officials say Awlaki was arrested in 2006 with a small group of suspected al-Qaida militants in the capital San'a. They say he was released more than a year later after signing a pledge he will not break the law or leave the country. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official said Awlaki is well known in the intelligence community.
The Homeland Security Department's intelligence division became concerned about Awlaki late last year when he published a new group of violent lectures targeting U.S. audiences, according to a Jan. 22, 2009 intelligence note.
On Dec. 23, 2008, Awlaki, on his Web site, encouraged Muslims across the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Awlaki also used these postings to declare his support for the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab, according to the Homeland Security intelligence note, obtained by The Associated Press.
In December of last year, Customs officials intercepted a flash drive of Awlaki's lectures that his wife sent from Yemen to an Islamic publishing house in Denver, the intelligence note said.
Awlaki told the FBI in 2001 that, before he moved to Virginia in early 2001, he met with 9/11 hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi several times in San Diego. Al-Hazmi was at the time living with Khalid al-Mihdhar, another hijacker. Al-Hazmi and another hijacker, Hani Hanjour, attended the Dar al Hijrah mosque in Virginia in early April 2001.
In his FBI interview, Awlaki denied ever meeting with al-Hazmi and Hanjour while in Virginia.
He was investigated by the FBI in 1999 and 2000 after it was learned that he may have been contacted by a possible procurement agent for Osama bin Laden. During this investigation, the FBI learned that Awlaki knew people involved in raising money for Hamas, a Palestinian group on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list.
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.
The Falls Church mosque is one of the largest on the East Coast, and thousands of worshippers attend prayers and services there every week. Abdul-Malik said it's a mistake for people to conflate regular attendance at a mosque with extremism.
Many Muslims pray at the mosque multiple times a day, he said. "It's part of family life. It's like going out for ice cream after dinner."
Faizul Khan, former imam of the Muslim Community Center in nearby Silver Spring, Md., where Hasan also worshipped, said he was not aware that Hasan had attended services at Dar al Hijrah but said it would not be unusual for Hasan to attend more than one mosque concurrently.
Khan said he did not recall Hasan mentioning having been taught or preached to by Awlaki.
The London Telegraph first reported the potential link between Hasan and the mosque.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said Sunday it's important for the country not to get caught up in speculation about Hasan's Muslim faith, and he has instructed his commanders to be on the lookout for anti-Muslim reaction to the killings at the Texas post.
Casey said evidence to this point shows that Hasan acted alone. He toured Fort Hood on Friday with Army Secretary John McHugh. Casey appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union."
Separately, the CIA denied an ABC News report saying that the agency has refused to brief Congress on the case.
"This is a law enforcement investigation, in which other agencies, not the CIA, have the lead. Any suggestion that the CIA refused to brief Congress is flat wrong," said George Little, CIA spokesman.
Associated Press Writers Ben Nuckols, Devlin Barrett and Matthew Barakat contributed to this story. AP reporter Ahmed al-Haj contributed from San-a, Yamen.
On the Net:
Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center: http://www.daralhijrah.net/
Anwar al Awlaki: http://www.anwar-alawlaki.com