Did Imam's Posting Trigger Hasan's Gun Buy?

Just two weeks before Maj. Nidal Hasan purchased the weapon he allegedly used in the Fort Hood shooting, the radical imam with whom he had been communicating posted an incendiary message on the Internet vilifying Muslim soldiers who "follow orders" by fighting on behalf of the "enemies" of Islam.

On July 14, 2009, Anwar al-Awlaki posted a message titled "Fighting Against Government Armies in the Muslim World" on his blog. Although the post is aimed at the armies of U.S. allies, it excoriates individual soldiers who defend U.S. interests against the mujahedin in Pakistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

"The blame should be placed on the soldier who is willing to follow orders whether the order is to kill Muslims as in Swat [northwest Pakistan], bomb Masjids [mosques] as with the Red Masjid [in Islamabad], or kill women and children as they do in Somalia, just for the sake of a miser salary," the message states. "This soldier is a heartless beast, bent on evil, who sells his religion for a few dollars."

The discovery of the July message Wednesday morning by the NEFA Foundation, a New York–based research group, is likely to fuel the controversy over whether the FBI missed important clues about Hasan before he allegedly went on his shooting rampage last Thursday. Senior investigators confirmed this week that starting in late December they had monitored between 10 and 20 communications between Hasan and Awlaki, an American-born imam now living in Yemen who had been investigated by the FBI for years because of his radical sermons and his association with two of the 9/11 hijackers.

But after conducting an "assessment" of Hasan, they had concluded earlier this year that the communications were benign and he did not pose a threat.

Most intriguing about the newly discovered Internet posting is the timing. It came just one week after Hasan was transferred by the Army from Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to Fort Hood in Texas in preparation for an overseas deployment.

And one week after the July 14 posting by Awlaki, Hasan walked into the Guns Galore gun shop in Killeen, Texas, and paid more than $1,000 for an FN Herstal 5.7 semiautomatic pistol, a gun that is known as a "cop killer" and has become a weapon of choice for Mexican drug cartels.

Evan Kohlmann, a counterterror researcher who works as a consultant to the NEFA Foundation and provided the Awlaki message to Declassified, acknowledged there is no way of knowing whether Hasan read the July 14 message. But he noted that it produced a "tremendous reaction" with "hundreds of comments" on Awlaki's Web site.

"This is the kind of thing that could push somebody over the edge," Kohlmann said, referring to the incendiary language in the message. "The timing looks to me like it's just before Hasan took concrete steps" toward the shooting.

After the Fort Hood shooting, Awlaki posted another message on his Web site calling Hasan a "hero."

Grief After a Rampage: See NEWSWEEK's of the tragedy at Fort Hood.