A few months after 9/11, a Muslim-outreach luncheon was held in the Pentagon, and one of the people in attendance was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam from Virginia, according to Fox News. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he went on to inspire Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hassan and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, assisted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, issued a fatwa against “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” cartoonist Molly Norris, and, it was later discovered, may have advised two of the 9/11 hijackers and known about 9/11 in advance. He’s now believed to be a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader in Yemen, where he is hiding. Which is why President Obama has ordered the CIA to assassinate him if possible.
So how did he end up at a luncheon inside the Pentagon, generally a place where terrorists are not allowed to go? Because back then, he was seen as a moderate bridge-builder, not a terrorist. As the Times reported in May:
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the eloquent 30-year-old imam of a mosque outside Washington became a go-to Muslim cleric for reporters scrambling to explain Islam. He condemned the mass murder, invited television crews to follow him around and patiently explained the rituals of his religion.
“We came here to build, not to destroy,” the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, said in a sermon. “We are the bridge between Americans and one billion Muslims worldwide.”
Still, in the week following 9/11, the FBI had spoken with Awlaki four times about his ties to three of the hijackers. But “none of the FBI’s information about Awlaki was shared with the Pentagon.” And so no red flags were raised when he was invited to the Muslim outreach luncheon, part of a Pentagon program to “convince influential Muslims that the war in Afghanistan was aimed at al-Qaida, not Muslims.” Apparently, it was not entirely convincing.