Before his 2011 assassination by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, the U.S. born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki lived in Falls Church, Va., under close surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A recent Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch revealed new details about the extent of this monitoring and his life in America.
As background, the writings of al-Awlaki have been linked to two of the most damaging recent domestic terrorist attacks by suspected Islamic radicals in the United States, the Fort Hood shooting in 2009 and the Boston Marathon bombing this year. He has also been linked by the FBI to two of the hijackers in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Here are some highlights of the new Judicial Watch revelations.
- Between 2001 and 2002, Anwar al-Awlaki regularly visited high-end prostitutes in the Washington D.C. area. The FBI later interviewed the women about the encounters. He paid between $200 and $400 for a variety of sexual acts, including intercourse and watching the prostitutes “perform erotic behavior.” In one exchange, just months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he told the prostitute that he was from India. Another prostitute the following year described al-Awlaki of looking like Osama bin Laden.
- A “reliable FBI human asset” said shortly after the September 11 attacks that al-Awlaki was the spiritual leader for Nawaf M. Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhdir, two hijackers that were on American Airlines flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. But he had been under occasional surveillance by the FBI as far back as 1999.
- During 2001 and 2002, the FBI followed al-Awlaki closely. They tracked him as he attended classes at George Washington University. To gain entry at GWU, he received a letter of recommendation from a Yemeni official in the Ministry of Education. “To the question ‘What are the applicant’s chief liabilities or weaknesses?’ the official wrote, “Not known.”
- In November of 2001, al-Awlaki was followed by FBI agents to a National Public Radio station, where he recorded an interview for Talk of the Nation. Asked about the impact of the War on Terror on American Muslims, al-Awlaki said the Islamic community needed to a better job of educating the country about itself. “There have been 1,100 Muslims detained in the US. There’s a bombing going on over a Muslim country, Afghanistan. So there are some reasons that make the Muslims feel that, well, it is true that the statement was made that this is not a war against Islam, but for all practical reasons, it is the Muslims who are being hurt,” al-Awlaki said, according to a transcript of the show.
- The tracking of al-Awlaki was often uneventful. “Into Safeway Food and Drug,” an agent wrote in November of 2001. At another point, the agent followed him to a Bertucci’s restaurant. “407 Bertucci’s eating solo,” read the agent’s notes from the same month, with time stamps indicating an afternoon meal. “436 eating pizza 2 slices.” On November 10, 2001, he visited Toys “R” Us.
With reporting by Miles Graham and Nicole Greenstein