By Reid Epstein
The House Homeland Security Committee has launched an investigation into a radical Muslim cleric who lived in the U.S. for his "possible involvement" in the Sept. 11 attacks, its chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
The existence of the probe into Anwar al-Awlaki, detailed in a May letter from King to Attorney General Eric Holder, is only now being revealed.
"We need to do this in light of al-Awlaki's growing stature," King told POLITICO on Tuesday. "His emergence, even before the death of [Osama] bin Laden, was probably the most feared Al Qaeda official in the world."
King said he hoped the investigation would reveal "how active he was in the country before Sept. 11. He was brought to the Pentagon after Sept. 11 as an example of one of the people we could work with."
The FBI interviewed al-Awlaki extensively after the Sept. 11 attacks, but at the time he was not considered a suspect, and the cleric even participated in a Washington Post online chat about Ramadan in November 2001.
President Barack Obama in April 2010 authorized the killing al-Awlaki, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen, where he is now believed to be living. He was the first American for whom CIA agents were given such authorization.
Al-Awlaki is believed to have been behind the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber and has connections to the Fort Hood shooter, the failed Times Square bomber and other terror plots.
In his letter to the Justice Department, King wrote that "there exists a critical need to reexamine the facts surrounding al-Awlaki and the 9/11 attacks. Given the greater collection of intelligence and integration of pertinent data since the attacks of 9/11, I believe that al-Awlaki may have played a greater role in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as well as other terrorist plots, than those of which we have been previously aware."
The letter was first reported Monday evening by Foxnews.com.
King requested Justice produce the documents by June 17, which he said it has not done but he said the deadline was flexible.
"We're not looking for a confrontation or trouble, but we'll keep pushing," he said. "We put June 17 in there because we thought it would give them an opportunity to get back to us."
A Justice Department spokesman told Foxnews.com that DOJ has received the letter and is working with the FBI to respond.
Fox reported that al-Awlaki spent time in Colorado, southern California and Virginia before the Sept. 11 attacks.