Intelligence agencies intercepted communications last year and earlier this year between the military psychiatrist accused of shooting to death 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and a radical cleric in Yemen known for his incendiary anti-American teachings.
But the federal authorities dropped an inquiry into the matter after deciding the messages from the psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, warranted no further action, government officials said Monday.
Hasan’s exchanges with Anwar al-Awlaki, once a spiritual leader at a mosque in suburban Virginia where Hasan worshiped, indicate that the troubled military psychiatrist came to the attention of the authorities long before last Thursday’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, but left him in his post.
It is not clear what was said in the exchanges, believed to be e-mail messages, and whether they would have offered a hint at the Hasan’s outspoken views or his declining emotional state.
The communications, the subject of an inquiry by FBI and Army investigators, provide the first indication that Hasan was in direct communication with the cleric, who on Monday praised Hasan on his Web site, saying the Army psychiatrist “did the right thing” in attacking soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Depending on what is contained in the exchanges, the disclosure of the government’s decision not to take any steps against Hasan may provoke criticism of the FBI and Army investigators for missing possible warning signs of an alleged mass killer.
But federal officials briefed on the case said their decision to break off the investigation was reasonable based on the information about Hasan that was compiled at the time, which they said gave no indication he was likely to engage in violence.
The officials said the communications did not alter the prevailing theory that Hasan acted by himself, lashing out as a result of combination of factors, including his outspoken opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his deepening religious fervor as a Muslim.
Hasan, who was shot by a police officer and is at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, has regained consciousness and is able to talk, though it is unclear if he has spoken to federal investigators about the shootings. “He is critical but stable,” a hospital spokeswoman, Maria Gallegos, said.
Gallegos added that Hasan had come out of a coma on Saturday and has been conversing with his doctors. He was in a coma when he arrived in San Antonio on Friday.
A lawyer for Hasan told The Associated Press on Monday he had asked investigators not to question his client and expressed doubt he could get a fair trial. The lawyer, retired Col. John P. Galligan, said he was contacted by Hasan’s family on Monday and was traveling to San Antonio to consult with him.
Many questions remain about Hasan’s state of mind, though another revelation Monday added to the complexity of his character. The general manager of a strip club about a quarter of a mile from the mosque where Hasan prayed five times a day, and next door to the gun shop where he bought the pistol used in the shootings, said Hasan was a customer.