ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
As the investigation continues into the Fort Hood shootings, NPR's Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr has been thinking about what happened and he says we should take a close look at the role the Internet played in the tragedy.
DANIEL SCHORR: For what is publicly known about Major Nidal Hasan, the accused killer of 13, he had no accomplice, unless you count the Internet in which he communed, exchanging thoughts with an extremist cleric in Yemen. This was probably not the Internet that President Obama had in mind when he told a town hall meeting in Shanghai on Monday that he was a strong supporter of the Internet. I'm a supporter of non-censorship, he said.
This was a reproof to China, which has built a firewall against unwanted Web sites. In the case of Hasan, judging from what has been disclosed, Internet contact with the like-minded seemed to replace human contact. An important influence, apparently, was Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical imam in Yemen. Several years ago, the Army psychiatrist had frequented a mosque in Northern Virginia where Awlaki preached. More recently, a year ago, he sought to renew that contact by email. The cleric had said that he didn't reply to the first two or three messages, but then opened a relationship in which several more emails were exchanged over a year.
Texts of the messages have not been released, so it's difficult to know who said what to whom. It is not known whether Fort Hood or any other target was specifically discussed. But the tone of the relationship can be judged by a message that Awlaki posted on the Web site after the Fort Hood attack. It said: Fighting against the U.S. Army is an Islamic duty today. The cleric told an interviewer, according to The Washington Post, that he never directed or pressured Major Hasan to harm Americans, but, he said, the Fort Hood attack was allowed by Islamic law because it was a form of jihad, permissible because the United States had brought the battle to Muslim countries.
Is the radical imam culpable for retroactively justifying the attack? Does the Internet merit some of the responsibility for helping the violence-prone to fester there in communion with a machine, a darker side of the Internet that President Obama lauds as a gateway to knowledge?
This is Daniel Schorr.