Anwar Al-Awlaki may be the first American on the CIA's kill or capture list, but he was also a lunch guest of military brass at the Pentagon within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Fox News has learned.
Documents exclusively obtained by Fox News, including an FBI interview conducted after the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, state that Awlaki was taken to the Pentagon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
The incident was flagged by a current Defense Department employee who came forward and told investigators she helped arrange the meeting after she saw Awlaki speak in Alexandria, Va.
The employee "attended this talk and while she arrived late she recalls being impressed by this imam. He condemned Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks. During his talk he was 'harassed' by members of the audience and suffered it well," reads one document.
According to the documents, obtained as part of an ongoing investigation by the specials unit "Fox News Reporting," there was a push within the Defense Department to reach out to the Muslim community.
"At that period in time, the secretary of the Army (redacted) was eager to have a presentation from a moderate Muslim."
In addition, Awlaki "was considered to be an 'up and coming' member of the Islamic community. After her vetting, Aulaqi (Awlaki) was invited to and attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the secretary of the Army's Office of Government Counsel."
Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., was interviewed at least four times by the FBI in the first week after the attacks because of his ties to the three hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour. The three hijackers were all onboard Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon.
Awlaki is now believed to be hiding in Yemen after he was linked to the alleged Ft. Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who e-mailed Awlaki prior to the attack.
Sources told Fox News that Awlaki, who is a former Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, met with the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Yemen and was the middle-man between the young Nigerian and the bombmaker. Awlaki was also said to inspire would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
Apparently, none of the FBI's information about Awlaki was shared with the Pentagon. Former Army Secretary Tommy White, who led the Army in 2001, said he doesn't have any recollection of the luncheon or any contact with Awlaki.
"If this was a luncheon at the Office of Government Counsel, I would not necessarily be there," he said.
The Pentagon has offered no explanation of how a man, now on the CIA kills or capture list, ended up at a special lunch for Muslim outreach.
After repeated requests for comment on the vetting process beginning on October 13th, an Army spokesman insisted Wednesday that the lunch was not an Army event. "The Army has found no evidence that the Army either sponsored or participated in the event described in this report," spokesman Thomas Collins said.
Collins also noted that the FBI document referred to the “Office of Government Counsel” but should read “Office of General Counsel.”
Collins said he believed the event was sponsored by the office of the Secretary of Defense. A spokeswoman there said she would look into it and get back to Fox News.
A former high-ranking FBI agent told Fox News that at the time Awlaki went to lunch at the Pentagon, there was tremendous "arrogance" about the vetting process at the Pentagon.
"They vetted people politically and showed indifference toward security and intelligence advice of others," the former agent said.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.