FBI surveillance reveals terrorist-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had a taste for pizza and call girls

Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in October 2008. Muhammad Ud-Deen / AP file

Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Muslim cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone in September 2011, led a double life, indulging in pizza and prostitutes even as he was ministering to some of the 9/11 hijackers, according to FBI records.

Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico in 1971, was the first U.S. citizen publicly known to have been added to the U.S. kill-or-capture list, in April 2010. After a near-miss in May 2010, the CIA killed him with a drone strike 14 months later in Yemen.

But before all that, he was the imam of a mosque in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Va., in 2001 and 2002 — a period that included the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — where he is believed to have preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers.

That brought him to the attention of the FBI, which began tailing him after 9/11, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative public policy group, under the Freedom of Information Act. Judicial Watch posted the documents as a .pdf file here.

The FBI learned that the preacher engaged in some decidedly un-preacher-like activities. 

As early as June 2002, FBI agents sought higher-ups' approval to prosecute al-Awlaki on prostitution-related charges, detailing at least seven encounters with call girls from Nov. 5, 2001, to Feb. 4, 2002 — the day before he represented the "moderate Muslim" viewpoint at a Defense Department conference called "Islam and Middle Eastern Politics and Culture."

All told, the new documents reveal, al-Awlaki spent $2,320 for the encounters. If the FBI agents' reports are accurate, al-Awlaki liked to watch.

Otherwise, the agents had a relatively boring task, documenting al-Awlaki's movements around the Washington area. The 348 pages of surveillance notes, public records and collected news articles makes for mind-numbing reading. Large passages are redacted, however, so it's not known whether the imam was pursuing more exciting activities.

"4:07 at Bertuccis eating solo [Bertucci's is a gourmet pizza joint near George Washington University, where al-Awlaki ministered to Muslim students as a chaplain.] 

"4:09 cell phone call

"4:15 still there

"4:36 eating pizza, 2 slices left

"4:45 finished eating — doing work"

On Nov. 15, 2001, an agent followed al-Awlaki into the Washington Metro system, where he traveled to an unexpected location: the offices of WAMU-FM, one of Washington's NPR stations. He was there to discuss Islam on "Talk of the Nation," which was canceled just last week.

The agent conscientiously noted that al-Awlaki was talking on his cellphone as he crossed Massachusetts Avenue NW after the interview.

And at least once — on Nov. 20, 2001 — al-Awlaki spotted his tail, according to an agent, who noted simply "surv disc."

Al-Awlaki wasn't previously believed to have become radicalized until he was imprisoned in Yemen in 2006 and 2007, and blamed U.S. officials for his prolonged incarceration.

In more recent times, he was closely linked to terrorist plots like the attempted "underwear bombing" of a jet at the Detroit airport in 2009.

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Judicial Watch has sued the government seeking details of what it alleges was the U.S.'s preferential treatment of al-Awlaki despite his suspected involvement with terrorists stretching back before 9/11. 

The documents Judicial Watch revealed Tuesday show that as early as June 1999, the FBI's office in San Diego, where al-Awlaki was imam of a mosque before moving to the Washington area, asked headquarters to authorize a counterterrorism investigation into his activities. The explanation for that request is among the redacted material.

Among the anomalies it has highlighted are Al-Awlaki's detention at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in Oct. 10, 2002, under an arrest warrant for alleged passport fraud. Documents it has obtained show that the FBI ordered al-Awlaki's release, even though the warrant was still in effect.

In a statement Tuesday, Tom Fitton, the group's president, promised to "continue searching for the answers to this burgeoning scandal." 

"The preferential treatment accorded [al-Awlaki] raises serious questions about the unique relationship between the terrorist leader and our own government," he said.

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