Sources: Radical Cleric ‘Probably’ KilledDecember 24, 2009 - 8:13 AM | by: Mike Levine
UPDATE 12/26/09: A source tells FOX News that the FBI now believes Awlaki is alive and was not killed in an airstrike in Yemen earlier this week. However, the source said, the FBI has not officially confirmed that.
Hours after an interview with a radical Muslim cleric tied to the alleged Ft. Hood shooter was posted online, military forces in Yemen launched an airstrike that may have killed the cleric, two U.S. sources told FOX News.
U.S. officials believe Anwar al-Awlaki was “probably” killed in the airstrike, which killed dozens of militants, one source said.
The airstrike, carried out this morning by Yemeni fighter jets in the remote province of Shabwa, targeted a meeting of senior Al Qaeda operatives, according to a statement from the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Awlaki, along with a regional Al Qaeda leader and his deputy, were “presumed” to be at the meeting, where the operatives were planning a “retaliation operation” for recent raids of Al Qaeda hideouts, the embassy said.
Authorities are currently trying to confirm whether Awlaki is among the dead, the two U.S. sources said.
Late yesterday Al Jazeera’s web site published an interview with Awlaki, in which he said the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at Ft. Hood last month asked him a year earlier whether killing fellow U.S. soldiers “was a religiously legitimate act or not.”
In the interview, translated by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Awlaki said he first received an email from Maj. Nidal Hasan on Dec. 17, 2008, and the initial email “was asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier [killing] colleagues who serve with him in the American army.”
Awlaki said subsequent emails “mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles.”
“Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could pass to us some money [and by that ] to participate in charitable activities,” Awlaki said in the interview, as translated by MEMRI.
In one other email, as described by Awlaki, Hasan wrote: “You are the only Muslim Imam who lived in America and who understands Allah’s words and knows well how to address people with a Western mentality.”
FBI officials have said they first learned of Hasan in December last year while keeping tabs on Awlaki.
Over several months, Hasan communicated 10 to 20 times with Awlaki, but the “general tenor” of the communications was “fairly benign” and fit with research he was conducting at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., one U.S. official said last month.
“Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the [investigators] concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning,” the FBI said in a statement issued days after the Ft. Hood shooting.
In the interview posted on Al Jazeera, Awlaki said he was surprised that U.S. authorities did not catch on to Hasan earlier.
“I wondered how didn’t the American security agencies who claimed that they can read numbers of car plates from space, from everywhere in the world, I wondered how” they didn’t reveal Hasan’s plans, Awlaki said, according to MEMRI.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, said he first met Hasan about nine years ago, during Awlaki’s short-lived tenure as head of a mosque in Northern Virginia, outside the nation’s capital.
In his interview with Al Jazeera, Awlaki insisted he did not “recruit” Hasan to kill U.S. soldiers. But, Awlaki said, he wishes he had “the honor of having a bigger role” in the Ft. Hood attack.
“I may have a role in his intellectual direction, but nothing beyond that,” Alwaki said.
Awlaki expressed hope that Hasan, charged by the military with 13 counts of pre-meditated murder and another 32 counts of attempted murder, would be executed.
“I pray to Allah to receive him in the ranks of the martyrs, since when he did what he did he was expecting to be a martyr,” Awlaki said, according to MEMRI. “If he is executed, good for him.”
The FBI declined to comment about Awlaki’s latest claims, adding that last month’s statement on the Ft. Hood shooting “still stands.”
“The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration.”
The FBI and Justice Department have launched internal investigations into the handling of Hasan’s case.