United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, "I can't wait to join you" in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.
"It sounds like code words," said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. "That he's actually either offering himself up or that he's already crossed that line in his own mind."
Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.
"Hasan told Awlaki he couldn't wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife," the official said.
Major Hasan also wrote, "My strength is my financial capabilities."
Federal investigators have found that Hasan donated $20,000 to $30,000 a year to overseas Islamic "charities." As an Army major, his yearly salary, including housing and food allowances, was approximately $92,000. A number of Islamic charities have been identified by U.S. authorities as conduits to terror groups.
Two FBI task forces, in Washington and San Diego, received the intercepted messages, but deemed them innocent.
On Capitol Hill today, Senators questioned how that could be.
"The choice of this recipient of emails says a lot about what Hasan was looking for," said Senator Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Senate's Homeland Security committee. Lieberman's committee held a hearing on the Fort Hood shootings, and announced that it was launching an investigation.
"What I'm getting at," said Lieberman, "Is he may have been looking for spiritual sanctions for what he's accused of ultimately doing."
The American-born Awlaki is considered a recruiter for al-Qaeda. He has been in hiding since the shooting, but a Yemeni journalist told ABC News today that the e-mails show Hasan was "almost a member of al-Qaeda."
Pentagon Probe Looking For Gaps, Gates Said
At Fort Hood today, federal investigators continued to gather evidence for the criminal prosecution of Hasan, while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his own investigation of the incident.
Gates said the Pentagon probe would try "to find possible gaps or deficiencies in Defense Department programs, processes and procedures for identifying service members who could potentially pose credible threats to others."
Some members of Congress have raised questions about the military's counter-intelligence unit, based at Fort Meade, and Gates said every question will be answered.
"I promise the Department of Defense's full and open disclosure," said Gates.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was once the imam of a Falls Church, Virginia mosque attended by Hasan and two of the 9/11 hijackers. After an intensive investigation by the FBI, Awlaki moved to Yemen where he was imprisoned in 2006 and says he was interrogated by U.S. authorities.
A blog entry posted on Awlaki's site after the Fort Hood massacre praised Hasan as a "hero" and a "man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people." The site has since been taken down, as has a Facebook fan page devoted to Awlaki. In a subsequent interview with the Washington Post, Awlaki described himself as Hasan's "confidant."
In addition to his contacts with Hasan, Awlaki served as an inspiration for men convicted in terror plots in Toronto and Fort Dix, New Jersey, according to government officials and court records reviewed by ABCNews.com.
In Toronto, members of the so-called Toronto 18 watched videos of Awlaki at a makeshift training camp where they allegedly planned an attack on the Canadian parliament and prime minister.