NY Daily News: In a hearing on Capitol Hill, top FBI official admits the agency knew radical, U.S.-born cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki was headed to U.S. in 2002 when they detained him briefly, then allowed him to go free

Al-Awlaki was wanted on an outstanding warrant for lying in an old passport application, but authorities felt they did not have enough information to prosecute

NY Daily News — by Joseph Straw

WASHINGTON — The FBI Wednesday acknowledged that it knew terror-mongering American cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki was returning to the States in 2002, when he was held briefly by U.S. authorities but then freed to return overseas.

“We knew Awlaki was coming back. We had information that he was coming back,” Mark Giuliano, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, told lawmakers Wednesday. He explained that Al-Awlaki was wanted by the State Department for lying about his birth site on an application for a passport a decade before.

“And the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s office looked at the warrant, looked at the factual basis for the warrant. It was not an FBI warrant, and it was dismissed simply because they did not feel they had the ability to prosecute Awlaki for the alleged passport fraud,” Giuliano said.

“Certainly, if we felt that warrant was good and there was a way we could have incarcerated Anwar Al-Awlaki at the time, we would have done that,” he added.

Al-Awlaki was, however, under investigation by the FBI at the time of his return.

The New Mexico-born Al-Awlaki was viewed publicly as a moderate while serving as a cleric in Northern Virginia soon after 9/11, but hastily fled the U.S. in 2002.

He tried to reenter the U.S. in October of that year, but officials have asserted that the statute of limitations for a 10-year-old warrant for passport fraud had expired.

Al-Awlaki would find infamy as the English-language voice of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, interacting with terrorists including “underwear bomber” Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and alleged Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik Hasan.

He was killed Sept. 30, 2011 by a U.S. drone in Yemen, the first U.S. citizen reported killed by the U.S. under the drone-strike program.

Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is seeking information from the FBI about whether Al-Awlaki may have aided the 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.

King asserts that, in 2001, Daoud Chehazeh, a Syrian living in the U.S. and a fake-document peddler, directed a middleman, Palestinian Eyad al-Rababah, to Al-Awlaki’s mosque in Virginia for “work.”

Chehazeh told Al-Rababah that two would-be hijackers were "special police" and "important" men.

Once there, Al-Awlaki connected hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf al-Hamzi with al-Rababah, King contends.