Attorney General Eric Holder appeared to suggest Wednesday that alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan may have had more contacts with Islamist radicals than what has been reported so far.
Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder said that authorities were looking into whether warnings signs were missed before the army psychiatrist allegedly went on a bloody rampage that left 13 people dead.
"I will say that on the basis of what I know so far, it is disturbing to know that there was this interaction between Hasan and other people. That is, I find, disturbing," he said.
That reference to "other people," in the plural, got the attention of some observers, such as Emptywheel blogger Marcy Wheeler, who highlighted Holder's statement on her blog.
Thus far, media reports had only confirmed that Hasan had contact with radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. It was not clear whether Holder meant to suggest that Hasan had ties to other members of Islamist movements, or whether Holder had misspoken, as no follow-up questions were asked about the statement.
The issue of Hasan's "contacts" gained fresh relevance this week as al-Awlaki, who had exchanged emails with Hasan, "blessed the act" and said the deadly shooting was "permissible" under Islam.
In his first interview since the November 5 rampage, al-Awlaki said the attack was allowed under Islamic law, sharia, because it was a form of jihad, or holy war, but that he had not ordered or encouraged it.
In the days following the shooting, authorities declared they believe Hasan to have acted alone. But as more information emerges on Hasan's background, a picture is emerging of an individual who sought at least the company and friendship of others who shared his views on Islam and America's foreign wars.
Last week, ABC News quoted "a senior government official" who stated that Hasan had "more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI" than just al-Awlaki.
The network has also been trying to track Duane Reasoner, Jr., an 18-year-old convert to Islam who is said to have dined frequently with Hasan and who declared that he felt "no pity" for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting.
-- With Agence France-Presse