BY EVAN KOHLMANN
Upon learning of the reported "missed" link between the alleged culprit responsible for the massacre at Ft. Hood -- Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan -- and Anwar al Awlaki, my heart sank for a multitude of reasons.
Al Awlaki is an infamous character in the halls of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and he has been for several years at least.
The cleric's recurring presence again in the Ft. Hood case seems to be powerful and disturbing evidence of how fringe extremists -- who otherwise might remain in obscurity with no real means of living out their private jihadi fantasies -- are quite literally being equipped for battle by so-called "theological" advisors known only to them through the Internet. In short, it is a reminder of how real online terrorism networks have become.
In mid-2008, I was invited by the FBI to look at the voluminous evidence they had gathered against a group of defendants who were caught plotting to attack various military installations on the East Coast, including Fort Dix in New Jersey.
At first, I was a skeptic. Most of the men under scrutiny were Westernized Albanian Muslims who spoke little to no Arabic, were into hip-hop music, and were working as pizza delivery boys and taxi drivers.
They didn't have any obvious connection to al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, they had never visited a real terrorist training camp, and they cut a pretty kooky appearance. They certainly didn't seem to fit the classical terrorist stereotype.
But to my surprise, this motley crew of would-be homegrown killers turned out to be much more sophisticated than I had initially given them credit for.