WASHINGTON — Intelligence agencies intercepted communications last year and 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 after deciding the messages from Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan warranted no further action, government officials said Monday.
Hasan's 10 to 20 messages to 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 Thursday's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, but left him in his post.
Counterterrorism and military officials said Monday night that the communications, first intercepted in December as part of an unrelated investigation, were consistent with research Hasan was then conducting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on post-traumatic stress disorder.
"There was no indication that Maj. Hasan was planning an imminent attack at all, or that he was directed to do anything," one senior investigator told the New York Times. He and the other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying the case was under investigation.
The Departments of Defense and Justice said Hasan would be tried in a military court, an indication they believe he acted alone.
The communications, however, provide the first indication Hasan was in direct communication with anyone who espoused militant views. On Monday, Awlaki praised Hasan on his Web site, saying that he "did the right thing" in attacking soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.
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 he declined on Sunday to speak to federal investigators about the shootings.
Many questions remain about his 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. Matthew Jones said Hasan had been in the Starz strip club at least three times in the last month. "He's been here, yes," Jones said, confirming a report that first appeared on Fox News. Jones said that sometimes Hasan stayed for six or seven hours and paid for lap dances in a private room.
The imam with whom Hasan made contact is a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents. He wrote Monday on his English-language Web site that Hasan was "a hero." The cleric said, "He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people."
At Fort Hood, the Army constructed giant walls of gray containers around the headquarters of III Corps in advance of a memorial service today. President Barack Obama and wife Michelle are expected to attend. Fifteen people remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and eight of those were in intensive care. An additional 27 soldiers wounded were recovering and will attend the ceremony.