This article incorrectly said that Anwar al-Aulaqi's descendants were sultans. It should have said that his ancestors were sultans.
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Cleric linked to Fort Hood attack grew more radicalized in Yemen
U.S. authorities have alleged that Aulaqi had become radicalized while still in the United States, before the Sept. 11 attacks, but they never found evidence to detain him.
Beginning in 2002, when he left the United States for Britain, Aulaqi lauded Palestinian suicide bombers on a Web site and in lectures attended by ultraconservative Muslims. He spoke at fundraising events hosted by Cage Prisoners, a rights group in Britain, but did not incite violence or express support for al-Qaeda, said Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee who heads the group. "He wouldn't have been so popular if his message was not moderate and across the board," Begg said in a phone interview from London.
In early 2004, Aulaqi returned to Yemen. At a lecture at Sanaa University, he spoke eloquently about Islam's role in the world. He railed against U.S. policies in Iraq. He denounced Israel, according to those present at the lecture. But he stopped short of calling for violent jihad.
"He was not inciting us to use arms," recalled Adil al-Howlari, who now works as a journalist for the United Nations. "He was talking about how to use English to spread Islamic values."
Aulaqi eventually took classes and lectured at Iman University in Sanaa. The university is led by Sheik Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, an influential religious figure whom U.S. officials have described as Osama bin Laden's spiritual leader and placed on a list of global terrorists.
The university has a reputation as an incubator of radicalism. John Walker Lindh, an American who fought with the Taliban, is a former student. Other students allegedly took part in numerous attacks.
Aulaqi's relative said the cleric had given four lectures at the university about Islam's role in medieval Spain.
By 2006, Aulaqi's influence had widened into the world of terrorism through his Web site and Facebook page, even though most Yemenis had never heard of him. Starting that year, investigators have found Aulaqi's sermons downloaded on the computers of suspects in nearly a dozen terrorism cases in Britain and Canada.
In mid-2006, Yemeni authorities arrested him. Aulaqi was accused of inciting attacks against a man over a tribal matter involving a woman. Aulaqi denied the allegations in an interview with Begg last year and accused the U.S. government of pressuring Yemen to keep him locked up.
In that interview, Aulaqi said he spent the first nine months in solitary confinement in an underground cell. Around September 2007, FBI agents interrogated him about the Sept. 11 attacks and other issues, Aulaqi told Begg. Although he wasn't physically abused, Aulaqi said, a U.S. Embassy legal attache swore at him. He was never charged and was released in December 2007.
Yemeni officials have declined to comment.
After his release, Aulaqi's stance on using violence for jihad grew more forceful. Last December, he penned a letter calling for fighters and financing for al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist movement with ties to al-Qaeda. And this January, he published an essay titled "44 Ways to Support Jihad." It called, among other things, for Muslims to stay fit and train in weapons to fight on the battlefield.