Army shooter: jihadist or stressed soldier?



FORT HOOD - Major Nidal Malik Hasan helped US soldiers face the horrors of two wars that he opposed as a Muslim -- and on the eve of deploying to Afghanistan, his divided loyalties collided with horrifying consequences.
The 39-year-old military psychiatrist, recovering in a guarded hospital room from bullet wounds, remains silent on his alleged rampage at Fort Hood in which 13 people were killed and 30 wounded.



Army shooter: jihadist or stressed soldier?
But while the motive is a mystery, a portrait is emerging of a man who spent his life healing others' mental war wounds, only to be overcome by his own demons.
Hasan's alleged journey to Thursday's bloodbath on Fort Hood base in Texas began in small town Virginia where his parents, Palestinian immigrants, ran a restaurant and were well liked members of the community.
Hasan is described by family, former colleagues and teachers as having been a bookish, gentle and intelligent child.
After high school, he went against his parents' wishes and enlisted in the military, which put him through college and medical school, where he entered the field of psychiatry.
Many who know him noted his devout Muslim faith.
He never managed to marry, apparently because he could not find a bride meeting his ideals, despite looking on a Muslim matching service.
"I am quiet and reserved until more familiar with person. Funny, caring and personable," he wrote in his profile.
What he didn't mention -- and, tragically, no one noticed -- was a darker side, allegedly culminating in the massacre at Fort Hood.
It's possible that descent into madness began with his work in uniform as a psychiatrist dealing with mutilated and disturbed soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly all his career was spent at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, and later at Fort Hood's Darnall Army Medical Center.
His aunt, Noel Hasan, told the Washington Post daily that he recounted one man so badly burned "that his face had nearly melted.... He told us how upsetting it was to him."
Hasan was also increasingly opposed to the two wars his army was fighting.
Colonel Terry Lee, who says he worked with Hasan, told Fox News that Hasan spoke about Muslims needing to "stand up and fight against the aggressor."
"He would make comments to other individuals about how we should not be in the war in the first place," Lee said. "He was hoping that President (Barack) Obama would pull troops out."
These views formed during years when Hasan was also complaining about suffering anti-Muslim harassment, which he said started after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Noel Hasan, the aunt, said "I know what that is like. Some people can take it, and some cannot."
The prospect of his imminent deployment to Afghanistan, relatives said, left him "mortified."
"He wanted to do whatever he could within the rules to make sure he wouldn't go over," cousin Nader Hasan told The New York Times. He'd also previously retained a lawyer to try and leave the army before the end of his contract, the cousin said.
Whether anger at events in the Muslim world motivated Hasan to the point of committing mass murder is one of the main questions investigators hope to answer.
An Internet posting signed NidalHasan reportedly caught the attention of law enforcement officials for praising the action of suicide bombers, who were compared to Japanese Kamikaze pilots.
Whether the writer was the same Major Hasan is not yet known.
Other details fueling the theory of secret jihadist rage is the fact that on the morning of the killings Hasan wore traditional Arab dress to his breakfast at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
Witnesses to the shooting have also reported that Hasan yelled "Allahu Akbar!" as he fired, Fort Hood's commander said. The phrase is an Arabic prayer meaning "God is greatest," but has also come to be used as a battle cry.
However, leaders at the mosque where Hasan regularly prayed, say there were no signs of fanaticism.
"He was sociable, likeable," said Asif Qadri, head of the medical clinic at the Silver Spring Muslim Community Center in Maryland.
"He didn't manifest any particular view either way," Qadri told AFP. He was "very gentlemanly."
Others wonder if Hasan wasn't simply another victim of war.
Retired colonel Ann Wright, with the peace group CODEPINK, said "what happened at Fort Hood is probably a result of the accumulated stress of working with thousands of soldiers who have returned from war zones."
"I am very concerned about the stress from deployments and for those who care for those who have deployed," Wright said.
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Image: US Army soldiers train.

Friday, November 6th 2009
AFP
           


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