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Fort Hood inquiry looks for motivation

FORT HOOD, Texas

As if going off to war, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan cleaned out his apartment, gave leftover frozen broccoli to one neighbor and called another to thank him for his friendship — common courtesies and routines of the departing soldier. Instead, authorities say, he went on the killing rampage that left 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, dead.

Investigators examined Hasan's computer, his home and his garbage Friday to learn what motivated the suspect, who lay in a coma, shot four times in the frantic bloodletting. Hospital officials said some of the 30 wounded had extremely serious injuries and might not survive.

The 39-year-old Army psychiatrist emerged as a study in contradictions: a polite man who stewed with discontent, a counselor who needed to be counseled himself, a professional healer now suspected of cutting down the fellow soldiers he was sworn to help.

Relatives said the American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent felt harassed because of his faith but did not embrace extremism. Others were not so sure. A recent classmate, Dr. Val Finnell, said Hasan once gave a jarring presentation to students in which he argued the war on terrorism was a war against Islam, and "made himself a lightning rod for things" when he felt his religious beliefs were challenged.

Investigators were trying to piece together how and why Hasan allegedly gunned down his comrades in the worst case of violence on a military base in the United States. The rampage unfolded Thursday at a center where about 300 unarmed soldiers were lined up for vaccines and eye tests.

Soldiers reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — an Arabic phrase for "God is great!" — before opening fire, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the post commander. He said officials had not confirmed Hasan made the comment.

Hasan's family said in a statement that his alleged actions were deplorable and don't reflect how the family was reared.

"Our family is filled with grief for the victims and their families involved in yesterday's tragedy," said Nader Hasan, a cousin who lives in northern Virginia.

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Army Secretary John McHugh traveled Friday to Fort Hood — the Army's largest post — as a widespread investigation into the shooting began.

"This is a tough one," Casey said at a news conference. "It's a kick in the gut."

The local police said that ballistics tests showed there had been only one shooter and that none of the casualties had been hit by bullets fired by the police.

But the military and federal investigators pointedly refused to release further details on how the shootings happened, why there were initial reports of multiple attackers and why officials took several hours to correct news media reports that Hasan had been killed.

Most significant, officials were not prepared to say whether the attack was the act of a lone and troubled man or connected to terrorist groups, foreign or domestic.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Army officials were trying to determine "if there is something more than just one deranged person involved here." She said in remarks at the base that while Hasan was the only one who had fired at the other soldiers, it was unclear whether he had planned the attack alone.

The FBI became aware of Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan this year. The postings drew attention because they favorably discussed suicide bombings. But the investigators are still not clear whether the writer was Hasan.

Casey said he asked bases around the country to assess their security. He also said he was worried about a backlash against the thousands of Muslim soldiers serving dutifully in uniform.

Hasan's relatives in the West Bank said they had heard from family members that Hasan felt mistreated in the Army as a Muslim. "He told (them) that as a Muslim committed to his prayers he was discriminated against," said Mohammed Malik Hasan, 24, a cousin. "He hired a lawyer to get him a discharge."

Hasan was due to be deployed to Afghanistan to help soldiers with combat stress, a task he had done stateside with returning soldiers. Col. Cathy Abbott, an Army spokeswoman, was uncertain when Hasan was to leave.

At a news conference, Army Col. John Rossi, deputy commander at Fort Hood, said 23 people remained hospitalized, about half still in intensive care.

He said the assailant fired more than 100 rounds and his weapons were purchased locally.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Fort Hood inquiry looks for motivation 11/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 11:30pm]

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