A Muslim cleric identified by the 9/11 Commission as an assistant to the Sept. 11 hijackers was enrolled as a GW graduate student for two semesters and served as a chaplain for a student group before fleeing the country shortly after the attacks.
Anwar Nasser Al-Aulaqi was enrolled in GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development during the spring of 2001 and the following fall, said Matt Nehmer, GW’s assistant director of media relations. He was pursing a Ph.D. in human resource development but left the country before graduating.
Al-Aulaqi was an Islamic cleric living in California in 2000 when he introduced two of the 19 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, to people who could help provide living arrangements for them in the United States, according to a 2004 Associated Press report.
The cleric has also been accused of preparing the two terrorists for martyrdom at the Daral-Hijrah Islamic Center, a mosque in Falls Church, Va., which is 30 minutes west of D.C. Al-Aulaqi moved to Virginia in January 2001 and took over the mosque attended by the two hijackers.
While running the mosque in Virginia and being enrolled as a student, Al-Aulaqi also served as the chaplain for GW’s Muslim Student Association in 2001 after being chosen by the students and the group’s board of directors. A chaplain serves as the religious group’s spiritual leader and assists in religious events and other faith-oriented sessions.
While few of the members of the current MSA were involved in the organization when Al-Aulaqi was chaplain, senior Amin Al-Sarraf, president of the GW Islamic Alliance for Justice and a board member of the MSA, said Al-Aulaqi barely took part in any MSA events. Al-Sarraf only remembers him going to one meeting.
“It was a very uninvolved role,” he said. “Al-Aulaqi went to one general body meeting and introduced himself.”
Al-Sarraf said that the board’s decision to ask Al-Aulaqi to be the MSA’s chaplain came from recommendations from student members and good reviews from other sources.
Current MSA President Mehdi Alhassani, a senior, pointed out that had anyone in the MSA known of Al-Aulaqi’s ties to the hijackers, he would have been released from his duties immediately.
“We don’t associate with anyone who doesn’t abide by the laws of our country,” Alhassani said.
Al-Sarraf added that Al-Aulaqi’s involvement in GW and association with the MSA negatively affects the group’s reputation. He said terrorism and Islamic extremism is not what the student organization stands for.
“At the end of the day, stuff like this is very unrepresentative of the Muslim community, especially at GW,” Al-Sarraf said. “It is a hindrance to our progress.”
Al-Aulaqi is said to have fled the country as the FBI was looking to question him about his relationship with the hijackers.
Johari Abdul-Malik, spokesman for the Daral-Hijrah Islamic Center in Virginia and friend of Al-Aulaqi’s, was unable to be reached by The Hatchet for comment. Malik has told news organizations in the past that Al-Aulaqi left the United States for Yemen in early 2002, only returning briefly to this country later that year to take care of personal business.
Malik added that Al-Aulaqi was not fleeing investigators but left to escape what he saw as a growing anti-Muslim climate in America.