U.S.-born imam linked to al-Qaida
Officials believe Virginia cleric left country to work with terrorists
By SUSAN SCHMIDTWASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON -- Even before the 2001 terrorist attacks, American-born imam Anwar al-Aulaqi drew the attention of federal authorities because of his possible connections to al-Qaida. Their interest grew after 9/11, when it turned out that three of the hijackers had spent time at his mosques in California and Falls Church, Va., but he was allowed to leave the country in 2002.
New information later surfaced about his contacts with extremists while in the United States. Now, U.S. officials are saying for the first time that they have come to believe that Aulaqi worked with al-Qaida networks in the Persian Gulf after leaving Northern Virginia.
In mid-2006, Aulaqi was detained in Yemen at the request of the United States. To the dismay of U.S. authorities, Aulaqi was released last month.
"There is good reason to believe Anwar Aulaqi has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States, including plotting attacks against America and our allies," said a U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
U.S. authorities were limited in how far they could push Yemen to hold Aulaqi, officials said, because they have no pending legal case against him. The officials said ongoing intelligence-gathering efforts here and abroad prevented them from providing details about Aulaqi's suspected activities.
Aulaqi, 36, was the spiritual leader in 2001 and 2002 of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, one of the largest in the country.
In a taped interview posted this New Year's Eve on a British Web site, Aulaqi said that while in prison in Yemen, he had undergone multiple interrogations by the FBI that included questions about his dealings with the 9/11 hijackers.
"I don't know if I was held because of that or because of the other issues they presented," Aulaqi said without elaborating. He said he would like to travel outside Yemen but would not do so "until the U.S. drops whatever unknown charges it has against me." Aulaqi did not respond to requests for an interview.
In several terrorism cases in Britain and Canada over the past 18 months, investigators found in the private computer files of some suspects transcripts and audio files of lectures by Aulaqi promoting the strategies of a key al-Qaida military commander, the late Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi known as "Swift Sword."
1) U.S.-born imam linked to al-Qaida