- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2011

American-born jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki likely played an important support role in the Sept. 11 attacks nearly 10 years ago, according to a new book that examines the threat of home-grown terrorism.

The book, “The Next Wave,” by Fox News national security reporter Catherine Herridge, reveals new documents that find al-Awlaki was nearly arrested after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon for providing false information on his passport application. Today, al-Awlaki is one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the only known American citizen on a U.S. hit list in the global war on terrorism.

“I believe the evidence supports the conclusion that Anwar Awlaki was an overlooked key player in the 9/11 plot itself, and his contacts with the hijackers were not coincidences but evidence of a purposeful relationship,” Ms. Herridge told The Washington Times in an interview Friday.

Ms. Herridge found that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, first went to a San Diego neighborhood where al-Awlaki was living. Later, al-Hazmi came to the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Falls Church, where al-Awlaki became an imam in January 2001. A third 9/11 hijacker, Hani Hanjour, also came to al-Awlaki’s mosque in this period.

Ms. Herridge also discovered that U.S. diplomatic security wanted to arrest al-Awlaki in 2002 for passport fraud and that he illegally received a $20,000 scholarship for foreign students when he was a U.S. citizen.

The new evidence disclosed in Ms. Herridge’s book raises serious doubts about the mainstream narrative concerning al-Awlaki. After 9/11, U.S. authorities considered him a moderate Muslim leader. It is thought that he only became interested in al Qaeda after he moved to London in 2003. Today, he is a spiritual leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was in contact with Maj. Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army officer charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.

In the book, Ms. Herridge shares details of an interview with Philip Zelikow, executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission. Mr. Zelikow said the commission was suspicious of al-Awlaki.

“In writing about Anwar al-Awlaki in our report, we said expressly that we were very suspicious of his role, possible, role in the attack … so that clearly says that we were entertaining the hypothesis,” he told her.

Ms. Herridge also interviewed Ray Fournier, a former diplomatic security agent who built a case against al-Awlaki for providing false information on his passport application. Mr. Fournier said, however, the Justice Department failed to pursue his charges of passport fraud.

He told Ms. Herridge: “We weren’t happy. We would rather not say exactly what was said. There may have been some profanities in that … particular conversation.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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