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Inside the Ring

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hasan connection

Federal investigators chasing e-mail and other communication links between Fort Hood shooting suspect Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki should consult a new book that cites documents on the al Qaeda imam.

"Muslim Mafia," by investigative reporter Paul Sperry, reports on copies of once-secret U.S. immigration records revealing that U.S.-born Awlaki was detained by authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Oct. 10, 2002, as a terrorist suspect as he tried to re-enter the United States from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was mysteriously released because a warrant for his arrest had been rescinded the day before, according to the book Mr. Sperry co-authored with P. David Gaubatz.

According to one document cited by the authors, Mr. Awlaki, spelled "Aulaqi" in those records, had been on a terrorist watch list and was referred to secondary inspection at the time of his detention.

Click on the links below to view documents on radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki cited in "Muslim Mafia":
• U.S. immigration records show Aulaqi, the 9/11 imam, was detained about a year after the attacks -- on October 10, 2002 -- upon reentering the U.S. from Riyadh.
• A restricted federal database reveals that the subject of a federal investigation by a Houston-based terrorism task force "sent money to Aulaqi." The imam, who listed Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., as his address, is a "silent hit" in connection with the case, records show.
• The same database reveals Aulaqi also has been the target of a terrorism-financing investigation led by a Customs special agent.
• The restricted database log shows that Aulaqi was released from custody at JFK International Airport after agents there got word from D.C. that an arrest warrant for him "had been pulled back" the day before he arrived.
Page two of the database log that shows Aulaqi was "escorted to Saudi rep... to continue with flight to Wash. D.C."

Mr. Sperry told Inside the Ring that Mr. Awlaki's release in 2002 was "absolutely outrageous and scandalous."

"Had he been arrested at JFK based on the fraud warrant, the FBI would have had a crack at him while in custody," Mr. Sperry said. "And their terrorism case against him would have developed. Instead, he was allowed to leave the country and is now safely and freely radicalizing and recruiting terrorists to attack the U.S. -- his own country. Awlaki was born here. He's not just soliciting violent jihad, he's soliciting treason."

A second document cited in the book -- a printout from a restricted database known as the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS, from July 12, 2002 -- shows that a target of an FBI task force in Houston had sent money to Mr. Awlaki, who at the time listed his address as the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church. According to the book, the case against Mr. Awlaki is still active.

Additionally, another TECS document from Nov. 24, 2002 identified Mr. Awlaki as being the target of a terrorism financing investigation. This document states that he is "former Imam of Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia."

According to one TECS incident log, Mr. Awlaki was released from custody at JFK International Airport in New York after agents consulted with officials in Washington and were told that an arrest warrant for the imam "had been pulled back" or rescinded, on October 9, 2002, the day before he arrived.

As a result, Mr. Awlaki and his family were ordered released and he later left the United States on a Saudi jet.

"Both Congress and the 9/11 Commission have criticized law enforcement for not thoroughly investigating Awlaki's ties to the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists," Mr. Sperry said. "The FBI is now trying to locate Awlaki overseas. The independent 9/11 panel and joint congressional inquiry apparently were not aware of the sensitive incident at JFK."

Mr. Sperry wrote that Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, is "al-Qaida's go-to imam for preparing suicide cells in the West, including the 9/11 hijackers, for 'martyrdom operations.' "

Mr. Awlaki is believed to be a key facilitator and adviser, and possibly a field commander, for the 9/11 cell that hit the Pentagon, Mr. Sperry wrote. "In short, he's an unindicted 9/11 co-conspirator, and he remains at large."

"The 9/11 Commission concluded Awlaki, who aided and privately counseled the hijackers, was 'suspicious' and should be brought in for questioning. The commission was not told, however, that he was taken into custody a year after 9/11 on a warrant but then released after the warrant was mysteriously rescinded. Awlaki was allowed to turn around and leave the country on a Saudi Arabian airline without any further investigation, even though he remained on the terrorist lookout as the subject of multiple investigations involving al Qaida financing," the book says.

Mr. Sperry wrote that law enforcement officials involved with the warrant against Mr. Awlaki are still upset about the missed opportunity to capture the imam and try to obtain information regarding the 9/11 operations, and possible future plots and sleeper cells still secreted inside America.

He also wrote that for some reason, federal prosecutors got cold feet: "It was odd."

The full title of the book is "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America."

Obama and Islamist extremism

President Obama and his administration have yet to call the murder rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, a terrorist attack from within the ranks of the U.S. Army. However, evidence is mounting that the suspected shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was motivated by both Islam and its concept of jihad or holy war in the shooting deaths of 13 soldiers.

The closest Mr. Obama came to mentioning radical Islam was the reference in his speech during a memorial service at Fort Hood on Tuesday that "it may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next."

A White House National Security Council spokesman, Mike Hammer, declined to say why the administration has not called the attack at Fort Hood an Islamist terror attack.

Other administration, law enforcement and military officials have consistently referred to the Fort Hood massacre as a "tragedy," a term used to describe plane crashes and other disasters that were not deliberate and lack a religious or ideological motive.

A Pentagon official told Inside the Ring that the Pentagon activated its Computer Emergency Notification System on Tuesday to announce that the Army had declared the day a "Day of Remembrance" for what the alert called "the recent tragedy at Fort Hood."

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the chief of staff, came closest to calling the attack an act of terrorism on Sunday when he said that the incident "may" be terrorism.

The FBI, using its broad definition of terrorism as requiring links to a foreign group or power, was among the first U.S. government agencies to state that the attack was not terrorism, a position it has taken following past attacks carried out by Muslims. Gen. Casey also said he was worried that "diversity," presumably Army efforts to have Muslims join the service, could be a casualty of any political backlash to the attack.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also said in the early hours after the incident that no one could speculate on Maj. Hasan's motives. Maj. Hasan reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar," which means "God is greatest." The military says it can not confirm that Maj. Hasan used the words.

Since the attacks, mounting evidence provided by investigators has revealed that Maj. Hasan had ties to radical Islamists in Yemen, including numerous communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, the former imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church.

Now, instead of playing down Islamist-extremism links, many government officials are being asked to explain how both the Army and the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities missed warning signs that Maj. Hasan held extremist beliefs that could have led to the shootings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based advocacy group, in recent days has warned against a backlash against Muslims following the shootings. The group condemned the attacks and stated in a press release that "no political or religious ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence." It initially stated that there was no evidence that Islam motivated Maj. Hasan.

Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Sunday sidestepped questions about whether the Army had failed to take action against Maj. Hasan despite knowing he had voiced anti-American statements to soldiers he had counseled.

Asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" whether someone should have caught Maj. Hasan, Mr. Skelton said: "That could very well be true. But let's wait until the investigation is over. If that is the case, they'll be front and center. But right now, let's give them a few days to find out just where the ball was dropped, if that's the case."

On the same program, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there should not be an overreaction to the attack. "About this case, you know, it's easy to second-guess," Mr. Graham said. "And I'm not going to go down that road yet. I mean, does every soldier who shows discontent with the war and every soldier that has a bad performance report - what are we going to do with those folks?"

Mr. Graham also took the position that the attack was "certainly not about his religion, Islam. It's not about the Army; it's not about the war. At the end of the day, I think it's going to be about him. And if we missed some signals, some clear signals, we've got to fix that. And I trust the Army to want to fix it, because it means more to them than any politician because it happened within their ranks."

Patrick Poole, a counterterrorism consultant to law enforcement agencies and the military, said he expects more attacks like the one that occurred at Fort Hood because the Pentagon so far is unable to produce a "threat model" that correctly identifies the threat posed by both internal and external jihadism.

"The case of Maj. Hasan is Exhibit A on existing jihadist threats from inside the military," Mr. Poole told Inside the Ring. "Had anyone dared to officially protest Hasan's extremism, they would not only have been risking their military careers, but would have certainly faced a harassment lawsuit fully supported by [some Muslim] groups. ... It's not that warning signs were missed, but they were willfully ignored."

Mr. Poole said Gen. Casey's comments on diversity were shocking and indicate that "the Pentagon brass are doubling-down on the see-no-evil, speak-no-evil culture responsible for this incident. And more soldiers are going to die until that changes."

Among the other incidents of Muslim extremism in the military, Mr. Poole noted the case of Ali Mohamed, an al Qaeda military chief who was an Army sergeant at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., during the late 1980s. There he gathered intelligence before defecting to help al Qaeda with its war-fighting skills. Mohamed was allowed to continue working at Fort Bragg despite warnings from both the Army and Egypt's military that he held jihadist beliefs, Mr. Poole said.

Mr. Poole said the military has policies designed to ferret out neo-Nazis, gang members and those with psychological problems from the ranks but is unwilling to do the same with radical Muslims. "Why these existing rules could not be applied to jihadism can only be explained by the delusion that there is no problem to solve," he said.

"If jihadist ideology is so isolated from institutional Islam as Islamic groups claim, they should have no real fear of trying to weed out the jihadists in the military, because it has nothing to do with the thousands of Muslims who are serving honorably and courageously," he said.

The Pentagon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rep. Howard P. McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday called for a congressional investigation of the shooting.

Mr. McKeon said the investigation is needed to determine if "this was a terrorist incident; and whether there was sufficient actionable information available to Army and government authorities to have prevented this tragedy."

New China fighter

A Chinese general is boasting that the People's Liberation Army Air Force will soon fly a new advanced fighter that U.S. intelligence projections had said would not be ready for 10 years. The new fifth-generation Chinese fighter could be deployed as early as 2017 -- years earlier than announced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in explaining his cancellation of the U.S. version of the fifth-generation fighter, the F-22.

Gen. Ho Weirong, the deputy commander of the Chinese air force, told Chinese state-run media on Monday that China's fifth-generation fighter has been under intense development and will enter service in the next eight to 10 years. Characteristics of this type of jet include radar-evading stealth, supersonic cruise, super maneuverability and the capability for short takeoffs.

The comments by the Chinese general represent an unusual disclosure by the Chinese military, which rarely mentions future weapons systems.

The disclosure will likely fuel further debate in the United States over the F-22, which was canceled in favor of the F-35 by Mr. Gates earlier this year.

Mr. Gates said in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago July 16 that the F-22 was canceled as part of considerations for the proper mix of warplanes needed for a potential of "state-to-state conflict."

The F-35, despite development problems, was chosen over the F-22 for cost reasons, but he noted that it was "clearly a capability that we do need."

Mr. Gates stated in the speech that the F-22 was not needed because China's air force would not have a comparable jet by 2020.

"Consider that by 2020, the United States is projected to have nearly 2,500 manned combat aircraft of all kinds," he said. "Of those, nearly 1,100 will be the most advanced fifth-generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020. And by 2025, the gap only widens."

As a result, the United States would have about 1,700 advanced fifth-generation fighters "versus a handful of comparable aircraft for the Chinese. Nonetheless, some portray this scenario as a dire threat to America's national security," Mr. Gates said.

A Pentagon spokesman did not reply to e-mails or telephone calls seeking comment on the issue. A Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman also did not respond to e-mails.

Richard Fisher, a China military-affairs specialist, said the reports on a Chinese advanced fighter reflected "unprecedented transparency" by China.

"One has to assume they have some confidence in their projections in order to make them public," said Mr. Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. "So what is the Obama administration going to do, ignore this and proceed with F-22 production termination, to the detriment of U.S. security interests in Asia and beyond?"

According to defense specialists, the F-35 is comparable in some ways to the F-22 but lacks what is called "supercruise" capability, a feature that enables it to penetrate deep into enemy airspace, launch its weapons and exit without using up all its fuel.

Mr. Fisher said he thinks that canceling F-22 production without a better warplane in the pipeline is tantamount to unilateral disarmament. "In Asia, this means a decline in American military credibility and an increase in regional instability," he said.

Mr. Fisher also called on U.S. intelligence agencies to explain "what appears to be a significant underestimation of Chinese capability."

"The PLA does not make it easy to read their future, but after spending $40 billion a year on intelligence, it would be a real scandal if they got this one wrong," he said.