In an interview published on Al Jazeera's Web site, radical Muslim cleric Anwar al Awlaki says that Maj. Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 in last month's Fort Hood massacre, asked for guidance about killing American military personnel in his very first e-mail.
Awlaki claims that Hasan initiated the e-mail correspondence with a message on Dec. 17, 2008. "He was asking about killing U.S. soldiers and officers," says Awlaki. "His question was is it legitimate [under Islamic law]."
The Al Jazeera questioner asks for confirmation that Hasan forwarded this query nearly a year before the shooting.
"Yes," responds Awlaki. "I am astonished. Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?"
Hasan and Awlaki exchanged as many as 18 e-mails in the year prior to the shooting. As ABC News had previously reported exclusively, Hasan had discussed martyrdom with Awlaki, asking when jihad is appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack. Hasan also told Awlaki he looked forward to seeing him in the afterlife and sharing non-alcoholic wine. CLICK HERE TO SEE INSIDE THE HOME OF NIDAL HASAN
In the interview, Awlaki does not say whether he okayed the attack, but restates his support for the deed. Just after the Fort Hood shootings, Awlaki posted a message on his Web site praising the shooter. In the interview, he calls the shooting "a heroic action."
"The operation had a military target inside America, and there's no dispute about that," says Awlaki, adding that the soldiers killed "were prepared and equipped to fight and kill oppressed Muslims."
Asked why he supports a man who "betrayed his American homeland," Awlaki says that religion trumps country. "Working in the American military to kill Muslims is a betrayal to Islam," says Awlaki.
Awlaki, however, denies recruiting Hasan to commit violence. "Yes, I played a role in guiding his ideology, but nothing beyond that," says Awlaki.
Awlaki then suggests that the American government is trying to cover up its security failure by preventing the publication of the e-mails.
The interview was conducted by Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea, who had previously interviewed Awlaki for the Washington Post, and who says he has seen copies of the e-mails exchanged between Awlaki and Hasan.
Maj. Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist who was born in Virginia to Palestinian immigrants, faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for his alleged role in the Nov. 6 attacks. He is being prosecuted in the military justice system, and could receive a death sentence.
In the Al Jazeera interview, Awlaki says he believes that Hasan is likely to be executed. "I ask God to accept him as a martyr," says Awlaki.