Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Many Terror Ties Of Anwar al-Awlaki

If the name Anwar al-Awlaki sounds familiar, it's because the extremist imam's name came up in the course of the investigation into the actions of Major Malik Hasan, who massacred 13 soldiers at Fort Hood.

However, this isn't the first time that Awlaki's name has surfaced in connection with terror suspects and terror trials. In fact, more than a dozen terror investigations had a common denominator - Anwar Awlaki.
In 2006, for example, a group of Canadian Muslims listened to Mr. Awlaki’s sermons on a laptop a few months before they were charged with plotting attacks in Ontario to have included bombings, shootings, storming the Parliament Building and beheading the Canadian prime minister.

In 2007, one of six men later convicted of plotting to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey was picked up on a surveillance tape raving about Mr. Awlaki’s audio clips. “You gotta hear this lecture,” said the plotter, Shain Duka. Mr. Duka called the cleric’s interpretation of Muslim duties “the truth, no holds barred, straight how it is!”

Last year, Mr. Awlaki exchanged public letters on the Web with Al Shabaab, a Somali Islamist group that has attracted recruits among young Somali-Americans living in Minnesota. The message from Al Shabaab praised the cleric as “one of the very few scholars” who “defend the honor of the mujahideen.”

“Allah knows how many of the brothers and sisters have been affected by your work,” it said.

Evan Kohlmann, a counterterrorism researcher who has testified in terrorism trials in the United States and United Kingdom, said Mr. Awlaki’s work had also turned up in cases in Chicago and Atlanta and in at least seven in the United Kingdom.

“Al-Awlaki condenses the Al Qaeda philosophy into digestible, well-written treatises,” Mr. Kohlmann said. “They may not tell people how to build a bomb or shoot a gun. But he tells them who to kill, and why, and stresses the urgency of the mission.”

For at least a decade, counterterrorism officials have had a wary eye on Mr. Awlaki, an American citizen now living in Yemen. His contacts with three of the Sept. 11 hijackers, at mosques where he served in San Diego and Falls Church, Va., remain a perplexing mystery about the 2001 attacks, said Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the national 9/11 commission.
Awlaki's Internet presence allows him to spread his message of jihad and hate to a wider audience than merely holding forth in a mosque somewhere in the world. His Internet presence allows counterterrorism experts to track and get a bead on those who might present threats, but now that his site is offline, that task gets much more difficult.

Now, just because Hasan is linked to Awlaki doesn't mean that Hasan was operating on behalf of any other group; he could have engaged in the massacre on his own. Awlaki's extremism informs as to motive and Hasan's own extremism.

Awlaki is believed to be somewhere in Yemen spreading his hate and preaching the jihad to all who wish to listen.

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