The Pakistani-American man suspected of attempting to bomb Times Square earlier this month recently told investigators he was inspired by a former GW graduate student who has been linked with several militant attacks.
The former student, Anwar Al-Awlaki, attended GW as a part-time doctoral of education candidate and worked as an assistant to a Muslim chaplain on campus in 2001. Al-Awlaki, who has been linked to the 9/11 attacks, the Fort Hood shooting and the aborted Christmas day Northwest Airlines bombing, became the first American on the CIA’s authorized kill list.
Though Attorney General Eric Holder told several news programs Sunday the Pakistani Taliban was the force behind the attack, ABC News is reporting the man accused of parking a rigged-to-explode 1993 Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square included Al-Awlaki among his web of radical contacts.
The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested at JFK airport moments before his plane was set to take off for Dubai. Shahzad, a Connecticut resident, is accused of filling the Pathfinder with gasoline, propane, fertilizer, and firecrackers and parking it on West 45th Street, according to the New York Times. The car failed to detonate and street vendors notified police, who evacuated the area. No one was injured.
Al-Awlaki, who posts militant lectures on the Internet, began counseling Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, in 2008. In November, Hasan allegedly shot 32 people, killing 13, at Fort Hood, Texas, the biggest military base in the United States. Hasan was linked to GW as well, attending an event hosted by Homeland Security Policy Institute, located at GW.
Al-Awlaki is also linked to a Nigerian man who attempted to blow himself up on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Though Al-Awlaki denied any connection to the attempt, he allegedly had communications with the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, last fall.
University spokeswoman Candace Smith said Sunday in an e-mail the University had no comment about Al-Awlaki beyond what they have said in the past. Associate Director of Media Relations Emily Cain said in January that Al-Awlaki was an assistant to a Muslim chaplain while at GW.
“Al-Awlaki was a part-time doctoral of education student and took classes at GW in 2001. Additionally, Mr. al-Awlaki[sic] was an assistant to a Muslim chaplain who was a member of the Interfaith Board of Chaplains during his time at the University. The group dissolved in 2003,” Cain said in an e-mail.
Editors note: The headline for this article originally said “Times Square suspect ‘inspired’ GW graduate” but was changed. Anwar Al-Awlaki was a graduate student at GW but did not graduate from GW.
This article appeared in the May 10, 2010 issue of the Hatchet.