By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke
Who is Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni cleric, who called the alleged Fort Hood shooter Nadal Hasan a "hero?" And could he inspire young men in the United States to commit violent acts in the name of their religion?
Some experts say al-Awlaki represents a new kind of terrorist: charismatic, young, soft-spoken and Facebook-savvy. They describe him as a "low-key" extremist, not known for fiery rhetoric.
On Facebook, al-Awlaki has more than 5,000 friends. American-born, fluent in English, his influence in the West should not be discounted, says Jarret Brachman, author of "Global Jihadism," and an adviser to the government on terrorism.
"A lot of guys in the United States read al-Awlaki's work. They watch his videos they listen to his sermons," says Brachman. "His personality's very engaging, very candid, you know he's playful, he's got a great sense of humor," he adds. "The guy is very appealing to people who are kind of dipping their toes into, into radicalism."
He's been on law enforcement's radar for years, says Brachman: "He can take you all the way to al Qaeda – that's the concerning part about him."
Before leaving the U.S. seven years ago, al-Awlaki served as imam at mosques in Colorado, California and Virginia – the latter where, according to the 9/11 Commission, he had contact with two of the 9/11 hijackers.
"He was young, handsome," said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church. "Has the benefit of English without an accent, and who also is proficient in the Arabic language."
But after 9/11, Imam Johari says, al-Awlaki grew angry at the way Muslim-Americans were treated by authorities. He left for Yemen in 2002, telling his friends, "'This is not an environment for teaching Islam or preaching Islam. I'd rather go someplace else. I'd rather go back to Yemen,'" Imam Johari recalled him saying. "'I can go back or teach, or have a TV show.'"
But Imam Johari believes that after al-Awlaki was jailed in Yemen, he became radicalized, with a growing following. His views became unrecognizable to those who knew him in the United States. "What he is saying from wherever he is in Yemen, to his minions, is that it is not only legitimate to kill Americans, that's the message that most people got, but that it is also permissible to kill American Muslims."