Sources tell ABC News that an air raid in Yemen this morning may have killed two top al Qaeda officials as well as an imam believed to have inspired the alleged Fort Hood shooter.
Those believed to have been present at the target in the eastern province Shabwa included the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahayshi, his No. 2, Saeed al-Shehri, and Anwar al-Awlaki, who was quoted telling Al Jazeera Web that Maj. Nidal Hasan, asked him "about killing U.S. soldiers and officers. His question was is it legitimate" under Islamic law.
Awlaki said the query was a year before the Fort Hood shooting, making him "astonished. Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?"
The sources would not get into whether the air raid was conducted by US or Yemeni forces.
US officials are still seeking confirmation that the raid definitively killed the three men.
Earlier this year, al-Wahayshi, a Yemeni, called for shariah law for Yemen. "The time for the rule of Islam has come so that you could bask in the justice and tolerance it brings," he said. He described the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has cooperated with the US in fighting al Qaeda, as "an infidel and an agent … and today he is using all forms of oppression with the pretext of preserving unity."
Last month al-Wahayshi called for attacks on Western airports and trains. Writing in an e-magazine Sada al-Malahem, al-Wahayshi told supporters, "You do not need to exert great effort or spend a lot of money to make 10 grams of explosives, more or less. Do not spend a long time searching for materials as they already exist in your mother's kitchen. Make them (bombs) in the shape of a bomb you hurl, or detonate through a timer or a remote detonator or a martyrdom-seeker belt or any electrical appliance."
Saeed al-Shehri, a Saudi and former detainee at Guantanamo, was transferred to the Saudi government by the administration of President George W. Bush on November 9, 2007. He went through jihadi rehab at the "Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling," where participants undergo a 12-step program to prepare them to return to society. Al-Shehri instead returned to al Qaeda.
Anwar al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico. He attended Colorado State University, earned a master's degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University, and worked on a Ph.D. in human resource development at George Washington University.
Former FBI agent Brad Garrett, now an ABC News consultant, told ABC News that "Awlaki is known as a senior recruiter for al Qaeda. He would be the spiritual motivator. Almost like someone you would go to and say, 'this is what I'm thinking about doing.' And they join in and encourage you and basically help you rationalize your behavior."