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Fort Hood shooting: Was Nidal Malik Hasan inspired by militant cleric?

Alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan had ties to US-born militant Moslem cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading figure seeking to recruit English speakers to violent jihad.

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The FBI and the 9/11 Commission concluded that Awlaki was a preacher the two men respected. The cleric was investigated by the FBI in 1999 and 2000 after "learning that he had been contacted as a possible procurement agent for Bin Laden." The FBI found evidence that he knew members of the Holy Land Foundation, a group that was disbanded in 2008 after five of its founders were given life sentences for funneling money to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. It also found that he had "other extremist connections" but that "none of this information was considered strong enough to support a criminal prosecution."

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Awlaki left the US in 2002 and lived in Britain for two years, where he traveled in militant Islamic circles, before moving to Yemen in 2004. According to a videotape he published on the Internet in 2007 he was briefly held and interrogated by Yemeni authorities and FBI agents in that country, and was later released. On his now disbanded website he claimed to be working as a lecturer in Islam at Iman University in Sanaa, Yemen.

A 2004 press release from the Treasury Department announced the designation of the school's founder Abd-al-Majid al-Zindani as a "specially designated global terrorist." In it, the government alleged that "Iman students are suspected of being responsible, and were arrested, for recent terrorist attacks, including the assassination of three American missionaries and the assassination of the number two leader for the Yemeni Socialist party, Jarallah Omar. Notably, John Walker Lindh was also a student at Al Iman University before he joined the Taliban."

Awlaki is presumed to still be in Yemen.

With mounting evidence of Hasan's involvement in the Fort Hood murders and his ties to Awlaki, the cleric's outreach efforts are likely to be hampered, or at least forced further underground. The closing of his website is one sign of this. The US also has ongoing investigation efforts in Yemen.

But short of his arrest, Awlaki is unlikely to desist, argues Evan Kohlmann, a leading researcher into the propaganda operations of jihad groups. Writing in the Counterterrorism Blog on Monday, Mr. Kohlmann points to Awlaki's English-language 2008 sermon, "Constants on the Path of Jihad,'' in which Awlaki wrote: "Jihad must continue regardless because it does not depend on any particular leader or individual… Jihad does not depend on any particular land. It is global. When the Muslim is in his land, he performs jihad… No borders or barriers stop it."

"It is thus perhaps little surprise that Anwar al-Awlaki's name and his sermon on "Constants on the Path of Jihad" seem to surface in every single homegrown terrorism investigation, whether in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, or beyond,'' writes Kohlmann.

(This article was updated after publication to include source of claims for his role at George Washington University).

Who is Nidal Malik Hasan and what might have motivated him?

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