ANWAR al-Awlaqi, an al-Qa’ida leader labelled a dangerous threat by the US, was invited to a luncheon at the Pentagon in the months after the 9/11 attacks.
Awlaqi, a Yemeni-American cleric, was brought to the Pentagon as part of an effort by the office of the secretary of defence (OSD) to reach out to the Muslim community after the September 11, 2001 attacks, military spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.
“Our understanding thus far is that this was an informal outreach conducted by part of the OSD staff in the aftermath of 9/11 in an effort to gain a better understanding of Islam,” Lapan said.
The account of the lunch with military officers and defence officials was first reported by Fox News, which cited FBI documents and sources.
President Barack Obama’s administration has authorised the targeted killing of Awlaqi, an American citizen who US officials believe is linked to three plots against the United States, including a shooting rampage at Fort Hood last year, a failed bid to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day and an attempt to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
A current employee of the Defence Department told the FBI last year that she had helped arrange the invitation after hearing Awlaqi speak in Alexandria, Virginia.
The employee “recalls being impressed by this imam. He condemned al-Qa’ida and the terrorist attacks”, according to an FBI document posted online by Fox News.
At that time, the then-secretary of the US Army was interested in having a “moderate Muslim” speak to a Pentagon audience, said the FBI document.
Awlaqi came under FBI scrutiny after the 9/11 attacks because of his ties to some of the hijackers.
But Pentagon officials who approved the lunch invitation were apparently unaware of the FBI’s interest in Awlaqi.
The Pentagon employee was interviewed by the FBI as part of the investigation into the Fort Hood shooting, which left 13 people dead.
Now based in Yemen, Awlaqi rose to prominence last year after it emerged he had communicated extensively by email with Major Nidal Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist accused of opening fire on colleagues at Fort Hood.
Awlaqi has praised the Fort Hood rampage and said Muslims like Hasan should only serve in the US military if they planned to carry out similar attacks.