The FBI knew that the US officer who massacred 13 people at the Fort Hood base had repeated contact with a radical imam overseas.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan was in touch with Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam released from a Yemeni jail last year, 10 to 20 times. Despite that, no formal investigation was opened into him.
Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said it was his understanding Hasan and the imam exchanged emails that counterterrorism officials picked up.
Hasan, awake and talking to doctors, met his lawyer yesterday in the Texas hospital where he is recovering under guard from gunshot wounds in the rampage last Thursday that left 13 people dead and 29 injured. Officials said he will be tried in a military court, not a civilian one.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered an internal inquiry to see whether the bureau mishandled information gathered about Hasan beginning in December 2008 and continuing into early this year.
Based on all the investigations since the attack, including a review of that 2008 information, the investigators said they have no evidence that Hasan had help or outside orders in the shootings.
Even so, they revealed the major had once been under scrutiny from a joint terrorism task force because of the series of communications going back months.
Al-Awlaki is a former imam at a Falls Church, Virginia, mosque where Hasan and his family occasionally worshipped, and runs a website denouncing US policy – a site that praised Hasan’s alleged actions in the massacre as heroic.
Military officials were made aware of communications between the two, but because the messages did not advocate or threaten violence, civilian law enforcement authorities could not take the matter further, they said. The terrorism task force concluded Hasan was not involved in terrorist planning.
Officials said the content of those messages was “consistent with the subject matter of his research,” part of which involved post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from US combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A law enforcement official said the communications consisted primarily of Hasan posing questions to the imam as a spiritual leader or adviser, and the imam did respond to at least some of those messages.
No formal investigation was ever opened based on the contacts, the officials said.
They said the decision to bring military charges instead of civilian criminal charges against Hasan did not mean it was not a terrorism case. But it is likely authorities would have had more reason to take the case to federal court if they had found evidence Hasan acted with the support or training of a terrorist group.
Investigators tried to interview Hasan on Sunday at the military hospital where he is held under guard, but he refused to answer and requested a lawyer.
Yesterday Hasan’s new civilian and military lawyers met him in hospital said retired Colonel John Galligan, who was hired by Hasan’s family.