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Hasan e-mails to cleric didn't result in inquiry
Suspect in Fort Hood shootings will be tried in military court

By Philip Rucker, Carrie Johnson and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FORT HOOD, TEX. -- Maj. Nidal M. Hasan corresponded by e-mail late last year and this year with a radical cleric in Yemen who has criticized the United States for waging war against Muslims, but the contact did not lead to an investigation, federal law enforcement officials said Monday.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist suspected of killing 12 soldiers and a civilian here on Thursday, will be tried in military court, the officials said.

U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted 10 to 20 e-mails from Hasan to Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen who once was a spiritual leader, or imam, at the suburban Virginia mosque where Hasan had worshiped, said a law enforcement official who spoke about the investigation on condition of anonymity.

Aulaqi responded to Hasan at least twice, according to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee.

"For me, the number of times that this guy tried to reach out to the imam was significant," Hoekstra said. "Al-Qaeda and radical jihadists use the Internet to spread radical jihadism. . . . So how much of [Hasan's] lashing out is a result of . . . his access to radical messages on the Internet and the ability to interact?

"I believe that the responses from Aulaqi were maybe pretty innocent," Hoekstra continued. "But the very fact that he's sent e-mail . . . to this guy and got responses would be quite a concern to me."

The FBI determined that the e-mails did not warrant an investigation, according to the law enforcement official. Investigators said Hasan's e-mails were consistent with the topic of his academic research and involved some social chatter and religious discourse.

Hoekstra and others are raising questions about whether government agencies paid sufficient attention to warning signs about Hasan.

On Capitol Hill, several investigations of the shootings are taking shape, with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announcing the first public hearings on the matter. Federal authorities are continuing to review Hasan's computer and electronic correspondence.

Hasan, 39, was shot four times on Thursday. He is in stable condition at an Army hospital near San Antonio, where he regained consciousness and began talking to doctors and nurses, a hospital spokeswoman said. FBI and Army investigators tried to interview him on Sunday, but he invoked his right to counsel, senior government officials said.

On Monday, Hasan's family hired retired Army Col. John P. Galligan, a former military judge at Fort Hood, to be his attorney. Galligan said he planned to speak with Hasan on Monday night at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.

Galligan said Hasan's family has not been permitted to speak to him and has not received a detailed briefing on his condition.

"Let's put it this way: They have not been told more than you or I have been getting by watching TV," Galligan said in an interview. He said he wanted it "on notice that Major Hasan has a lawyer and no one should be having contact with him without counsel."

Senior U.S. investigators said Monday night Hasan will be charged in military court, based on an agreement reached between the Justice Department and the Defense Department.

A capital case

Several civilian lawyers who specialize in defending military clients said they think the Fort Hood shootings will be a capital case. "No-brainer: This one is it," said Guy Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.

If Hasan were charged in the Fort Hood case as the gunman, "the strongest defense would be for him to say he has suffered post-traumatic stress from getting ready to deploy and years of debriefing soldiers who have been there as part of his work and that he reacted violently due to that stimulus," Womack added.

At Fort Hood, Army officials prepared for a Tuesday memorial service to honor those killed and wounded. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, top military brass, members of the victims' families and about 3,000 spectators are expected to attend. The Obamas are scheduled to meet with wounded soldiers and their relatives at Darnell Army Medical Center on the base.

Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, Fort Hood's commanding officer, said that 27 soldiers who were injured in Thursday's shootings have been released from hospitals and that most are expected to attend the service. Fifteen soldiers remain hospitalized, eight of them in intensive care, he said. It was originally reported that 38 people were injured.

Cone said the service -- featuring remarks by Obama, prayers, a sermon, a reading of the names of the dead and a 21-gun salute -- is meant to help "the grieving process" for soldiers, civilians and family members at Fort Hood, especially the estimated 600 people who "were somehow directly touched by this incident."

'A different imam'

In Washington, intelligence officials focused on Hasan's communications with Aulaqi, who wrote Monday on his Web site that the Fort Hood attack was "a heroic act." He wrote that a Muslim who "properly" understands his religious obligations cannot serve as a U.S. soldier, as American forces are engaged in fighting Islam and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal," Aulaqi wrote, according to a translation.

At Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, where Aulaqi was an imam, mosque leaders denounced his statements.

"This was a really disgraceful statement from a blog of our former short-lived Imam Aulaqi," the mosque's outreach director, Johari Abdul-Malik, said Monday. "Aulaqi wasn't angry like that when he was here with us. He changed after he left, after 9/11. He became a different imam."

A terrorism expert with access to information about the case cautioned against drawing any conclusions from Hasan's communications with Aulaqi. The expert said it appears that Hasan may have contacted the cleric for academic research he was conducting. The correspondence, he said, is "not a smoking gun, but communications that in hindsight raise some concern."

"It obviously suggests that Dr. Hasan was reaching out either for personal or academic reasons, given the nature of his thesis and the work he was preparing to do as a researcher," added the expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Hoekstra sent a letter Saturday to intelligence chiefs, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, raising the possibility that "serious issues exist with respect to the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies." He asked that all documents and materials connected to the shootings be preserved, saying that the Obama administration "is in possession of critical information related to the attack that they are refusing to release to Congress."

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has ordered a review of what might have been done differently in the case.

Wendi Morigi, a spokeswoman for Blair, said that "the intelligence community is carefully following every lead and examining all information regarding Army Major Nidal Hasan."

A U.S. intelligence official said Monday that "there's no sign at this point that the CIA collected information relevant to this case and then simply sat on it."

House intelligence committee Democrats said they do not share Hoekstra's dissatisfaction.

"Director Blair committed to briefing members of the committee on any possible information the intelligence community may have had," Chairman Silvestre Reyes (Tex.) said Monday.

Senior intelligence officials briefed some intelligence committee lawmakers and staff members Monday night in an hour-long meeting, officials said.

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