WASHINGTON — A radical Muslim cleric with suspected links to al-Qaida considered himself a confidant of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the Fort Hood shootings, The Washington Post reported Monday.
But the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, insisted in an interview with a Yemeni journalist contacted by the Post that he did not pressure Hasan to harm Americans. Al-Awlaki is a former imam at a Falls Church, Va., mosque where Hasan and his family occasionally worshipped.
Al-Awlaki, a native-born U.S. citizen, left the United States in 2002, eventually traveling to Yemen. He said Hasan first e-mailed him in December 2008. Eventually, al-Awlaki said, Hasan came to view him as a confidant.
"It was clear from his e-mails that Nidal trusted me," al-Awlaki told the journalist. "Nidal told me: 'I speak with you about issues that I never speak with anyone else.'"
He showed the journalist his correspondence with Hasan but would not provide it to the Post. He said Hasan questioned the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said the Army psychiatrist cited Islamic law that demanded "that what America was doing should be confronted."
"So Nidal was providing evidence to Anwar, not vice versa," said the Yemeni reporter, Abdulelah Hider Shaea.
Hasan, 39, was charged last Thursday with the Nov. 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood, in which 13 people were killed.
The imam told Shaea that the Fort Hood attack was acceptable under Islam. "America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries," al-Awlaki said.
Al-Awlaki also denounced Muslims who condemned the attack. "They say American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed," the imam argued, "so how can they say the American soldier should not be killed at the moment they are going to Iraq and Afghanistan?"
Al-Awlaki is considered to have deep and close links with al-Qaida, former U.S. intelligence officials have told The Associated Press. In 2001, al-Awlaki had contact with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, according to law enforcement officials.