This month, the FBI released correspondence between Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 people and injured 32 others in November 2009, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the influential American-born terrorist ideologue who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The correspondence – 16 emails sent by Hasan to al-Awlaki and two responses from al-Awlaki – reflects Hasan’s interest in arguments justifying acts of violence.
The emails were included in the final independent report investigating the Bureau’s handling of intelligence surrounding the 2009 shooting. According to the report, aside from blast emails originating from al-Awlaki’s website, these 16 messages encompass all of the communication between Hasan and al-Awlaki in the time frame surrounding the attack.
Less than a year before the shooting, on December 17, 2008, Hasan asked al-Awlaki for his view on Muslims serving in the U.S. military and whether attacking military personnel was a good idea. Two weeks later, on January 1, Hasan wrote to Awlaki that hatred of the Israel could unify “all Muslims regardless of… difference [sic].” He also decried the double standard he perceived was applied to Israel and the U.S. in relation to the Muslim world.
Later that month, Hasan asked for al-Awlaki’s opinion on “indiscriminately killing civilians,” and sent another message several days later that read, “the Western world makes clear that it does not want Islamic rule to prevail.” On February 19, Hasan claimed that al-Awlaki has “a very huge following” in the United States that is afraid to be vocal. A message from Hasan three days later noted that his “goal is Jannat Firdaus [Paradise].” On February 28, Hasan shared a survey with al-Awlaki that he claimed “shows that most Muslims feel that the U.S. is trying to undermine Islam [sic].” A few months later, on May 31, Hasan asked for al-Awlaki’s opinion on suicide bombings.
In one of the two emails al-Awlaki wrote to Hasan, dated February 19, 2009, he said that he would be unable to award a scholarship established in his honor and expressed his discomfort with the idea. The other email, from February 22, suggested that Hasan help “poor people, orphans, widows, dawa [Muslim outreach] projects.” Both messages are dated more than eight months prior to the attack. Hasan apparently never heard from al-Awlaki again, despite continuing to contact him through June.
Although al-Awlaki did not respond directly to later emails from Hasan, in the 8th issue of the terrorist magazine Inspire, released in May 2012, al-Awlaki wrote that “the populations of the nations that are at war with the Muslims and especially those who are at the lead such as the U.S., Britain and France should be targeted by the mujahidin in operations that employ explosives, poisons, firearms and all other methods that lead to inflicting the greatest harm on them…”
The release of these emails belie al-Awlaki’s claims in the aftermath of the attack that he had “blessed the act because it was against a military target,” gave Hasan “permission to carry out his attacks at Fort Hood,” and instructed him to “kill other American soldiers.” His correspondence to Hasan was, in fact, relatively innocuous.