- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fort Hood shooting suspect Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been in contact with numerous Muslim extremists — some of whom are under federal investigation — before last week’s rampage, two U.S. officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

Maj. Hasan made some of the contacts while visiting known jihadist chat rooms on the Internet, according to one of The Times’ sources, a senior FBI official. He said that several people with whom Maj. Hasan was in contact had been the focus of investigations by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The other source, a military intelligence official, said those in contact with Maj. Hasan are located both in the U.S. and overseas. The official said they are “broadly known and characterized as Islamic extremists if not necessarily al Qaeda.”

Both officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said some of the names of those with whom Maj. Hasan was in contact will likely be released soon.

The FBI official said that could happen during pending congressional hearings into the massacre.

These ties are in addition to Maj. Hasan’s already-reported links to radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who called Maj. Hasan a “hero” on a blog post about last week’s Fort Hood shooting, which left 13 dead and 29 wounded.

The military intelligence official said, “Those connections, except for Awlaki, could be explained innocently. But all of them together form a very concerning picture.”

“I may run into contact with shady people through coincidence, through social events, etc.,” he said. “But at some point you start saying like, ‘Huh? Why are you coming in contact with all these charming people?’ ”

Questions still lingered Wednesday over whether more should have been done in response to Maj. Hasan’s contacts with Mr. al-Awlaki, who served as the imam at mosques in San Diego and in Falls Church — both of which were attended by Maj. Hasan.

Mr. al-Awlaki, who now lives in Yemen, was in contact with Maj. Hasan as many as 20 times beginning in December 2008, according to the FBI.

A Joint Terrorism Task Force knew about the contacts because it had Mr. al-Awlaki’s communications under surveillance.

Several senior investigative officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity earlier this week, said the task force conducted a “preliminary assessment” into Maj. Hasan but didn’t open a full-fledged investigation because the contacts were innocuous.

They said the contacts related to research that Maj. Hasan was doing in his job as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year.

The task force never formally told the Pentagon about Maj. Hasan’s contact with Mr. al-Awlaki because the content of the e-mails did not relate to terrorism or other crimes.

Several news organizations, including the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal, cited anonymous Pentagon officials on Wednesday as saying they never learned of the al-Awlaki contacts from the task force.

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