WASHINGTON – A radical Yemeni cleric who was in contact with the suspected US army base shooter may also have ties to the failed attack on a US-bound plane at Christmas, a top White House aide said Sunday.
US Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan accused the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaqi, of trying to "instigate terrorism" due to his alleged links to the two events.
"I think what we are clear about is that Mr Awlaqi was in touch with (alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal) Hasan... and there are indications that he had contact, direct contact, with (alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk) Abdulmutallab," Brennan said on CNN.
"Mr Awlaqi is a problem. He's clearly a part of al-Qaida in (the) Arabian Peninsula. He's not just a cleric. He is in fact trying to instigate terrorism."
President Barack Obama on Saturday accused the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, of arming and training Nigerian suspect Abdulmutallab who targeted a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day.
The New York Times has previously reported that Abdulmutallab told FBI agents that he was connected to the al-Qaida affiliate by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted online.
The US-born Awlaqi also exchanged emails with Hasan, an army psychiatrist who has been charged with killing 13 people in a November 5 shooting rampage at the Texas military base.
The cleric has told The Washington Post he "blessed the act" and said it was "permissible" under Islam because it was a form of jihad, or holy war.
US intelligence agencies intercepted emails between the Fort Hood suspect and Awlaqi, who is now in Yemen but was a leader of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque outside Washington attended by Hasan and two hijackers of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"In my mind, Major Hasan carried out this attack, it was inspired, I think, by some of the rantings and the rhetoric of individuals like al-Awlaqi," said Brennan.
"What we need to do now is to make sure that we can identify other individuals or other activities of Mr al-Awlaqi so we can stop it before it comes through."