Answers Sought On Fort Hood Suspect's Link To Imam In the wake of the worst-ever mass shooting at a military post, questions have been raised about what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's alleged radical views and whether they shared that knowledge with local Army and law enforcement officials in the weeks and months before the attack.
NPR logo Answers Sought On Fort Hood Suspect's Link To Imam

Answers Sought On Fort Hood Suspect's Link To Imam

The FBI knew that alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had communicated with a radical imam nearly a year before the attack but concluded the Army psychiatrist was no threat, officials said.

The report comes on the same day that Fort Hood held a memorial service honoring the 13 people who died during Thursday's shooting rampage at the Texas base. President Obama and the first lady attended the ceremony that drew an estimated 15,000 people.

Hasan, the only suspect in the attack, was shot by civilian police and remains hospitalized under guard in San Antonio. The 39-year-old Army psychiatrist is reportedly awake and talking to doctors and has met with his lawyer.

As the impact of the worst-ever mass shooting at a military post sinks in, information has begun to emerge raising questions over what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about Hasan's behavior and whether they shared that knowledge with local Army and law enforcement officials in the weeks and months before the Fort Hood shootings.

E-mails With Imam Were Deemed 'Fairly Benign'

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Investigative officials told The Associated Press that FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered an internal investigation into whether the agency mishandled an "assessment" of Hasan that was conducted last December and concluded he did not pose a threat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to communicate with the media.

On Monday, the FBI and military officials briefed senior lawmakers. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said it was his understanding that Hasan and a radical Yemeni imam had exchanged 10 to 20 e-mails.

The imam, whom reports have identified as Anwar al-Awlaki, was released from a jail in Yemen last year. He writes a blog that denounces U.S. policies as anti-Muslim and once presided at a mosque in Falls Church, Va., that Hasan attended.

The officials said a joint terrorism task force, with military participation, took "a look" at Hasan, but concluded his communications with Awlaki were "fairly benign." At the time, Hasan was conducting research on post-traumatic stress at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the officials say Hasan's communications were judged to be consistent with that research.

They said the military was made aware of the communications, and that law enforcement authorities could not take the matter further because the messages did not advocate violence or threaten violence. The terrorism task force concluded Hasan was not involved in terrorist planning.

The concerns, one official said, were not enough even to start a preliminary investigation.

Former Walter Reed Colleagues Talk Of Dismissal Effort

The officials also dismissed the significance of reports that Hasan's colleagues complained about his religious and political views. One official said they get thousands of complaints every year, some of which lead to investigations, while others do not.

Two psychiatrists who worked with Hasan at Walter Reed told NPR that during the six years he was there, he was frequently distracted and often late for work. The psychiatrists, who asked not to be identified, said that when on call, Hasan often would simply not answer the phone.

They also said Hasan once tried to convert a patient to Islam, telling him that Islam would "save his soul." Hasan received a verbal warning for that incident.

He was repeatedly warned about his performance, but officials said the problems had nothing to do with his faith.

At one point, the psychiatrists said, a former psychiatric director at Walter Reed, Scott Moran, sought to have Hasan dismissed, reportedly saying, "I do not think Hasan should carry the Walter Reed name." Moran, reached by NPR, declined to comment.

But the administrative procedure for removing a resident at Walter Reed was considered onerous, according to the psychiatrists, and a key official on a review committee reportedly asked how it might look to terminate a key resident who happened to be a Muslim.

Hasan was later reassigned to Fort Hood.

Radical Cleric Calls Hasan 'A Hero'

Awlaki praised Hasan as a hero on his personal Web site Monday. The posting stated that American Muslims who have condemned the Fort Hood attack are hypocrites who have committed treason against their religion.

It went on to state that 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," Awlaki said. "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."

Hasan's family attended the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, where Awlaki was preaching in 2001. A funeral for Hasan's mother was held there on May 31, 2001, according to her obituary in the Roanoke Times newspaper, around the same time two Sept. 11 hijackers worshipped at the mosque.

The mosque is one of the largest on the East Coast, and thousands of people attend prayers and services there every week.

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. He said the Hasans were not leaders at the mosque and that their attendance was normal.

Suspect Warned Of Difficulties For Muslim Troops

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hasan warned his medical colleagues a year and a half ago that to "decrease adverse events," the U.S. military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors rather than force them to fight fellow Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims," Hasan said in a presentation to senior Army doctors, a copy of which was obtained by the Post.

Officials say Hasan will face charges in a military court. Hasan's attorney, retired Col. John P. Galligan, said he told his client Monday that all of his rights as a defendant in the military justice system will be respected.

Galligan appeared on CBS's The Early Show on Tuesday and said he found Hasan to be "coherent" and that he is "aware that he's a suspect. But there were no formal charges that I could discuss with him."

Galligan said he thought it would be difficult for Hasan to get a fair trial at Fort Hood, "given the national media attention that has been focused" on the case.

From NPR's Tom Gjelten, Daniel Zwerdling, Scott Neuman and wire reports