Radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki lunched at the Pentagon as part of a program to reach out to moderate Muslims in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a military official said Thursday.
The U.S.-born al-Qaida operative is now on a U.S. kill-or-capture list.
U.S. investigators say e-mails link al-Awlaki to the Army psychiatrist accused of last year's killings at Fort Hood, Texas. They also say that he helped prepare Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused in the Christmas airline bombing attempt, and that he had links to the failed Times Square bombing.
Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said al-Awlaki was invited to the Department of Defense's headquarters after 9/11 as part of a broader effort under then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to establish better ties with the Muslim community.
Al-Awlaki's Pentagon lunch was first reported by Fox News, which cited FBI sources and documents.
The 9/11 Commission reported that al-Awlaki was interviewed at least four times in two weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks about his dealings with three of the hijackers aboard the flight that slammed into the Pentagon. But it said it didn't know enough about Al-Awlaki's relationship with the hijackers to say whether he was aware of the plot.
The report said he had also been investigated by the FBI in 1999 and 2000 for having been "contacted by a possible procurement agent for (Osama) bin Laden" and for connections to extremist fundraising groups. None of the investigations led to criminal charges against him.
Born in New Mexico, al-Awlaki at first served primarily as an inspiration for would-be militant fighters. But intelligence agents said he later took on an operational role, prompting the Obama administration to add him to the government's list of wanted terror suspects. He's now thought to be hiding in Yemen.
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