Born and reared in Virginia, the son of immigrant parents from a small town near Jerusalem, he joined the Army right out of high school, against his parents' wishes. The Army, in turn, put him through college and then medical school, where he trained to be a psychiatrist.
But Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the 39-year-old man accused of Thursday's mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, started having second thoughts about his military career a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim, he told relatives in Virginia. And details of his life and mindset, emerging from official sources and personal acquaintances, are even more troubling.
At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.
Officials had not determined for certain whether Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, according to the Associated Press, citing unnamed law enforcement officials.
More recently, Nidal Hasan expressed deep concerns about being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Having counseled scores of returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, first at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and more recently at Fort Hood, he knew all too well the terrifying realities of war, said a cousin, Nader Hasan.
"He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy," Nader Hasan told the New York Times. "He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there."
Nidal Hasan was taken into custody by the Fort Hood police after the shooting rampage, in which 12 people were killed, and at least 31 others were wounded. Though Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, reported that Hasan was to be deployed later this month, that could not be confirmed with the Army on Thursday night.
Nader Hasan said his cousin never mentioned in recent phone calls to Virginia that he was going to be deployed, and he said the family was shocked when it heard the news on television Thursday afternoon. "He was doing everything he could to avoid that," Hasan said. "He wanted to do whatever he could within the rules to make sure he wouldn't go over."
Several years ago, that included retaining a lawyer and making inquiries about whether he could get out of the Army before his contract was up, because of the harassment he had received as a Muslim. But Nader Hasan said the lawyer had told his cousin that even if he paid the Army back for his education, it would not allow him to leave before his commitment was up. "I think he gave up that fight and was just doing his time," Hasan said.
Nader Hasan said his cousin's parents had both been U.S. citizens who owned businesses, including restaurants and a store, in Roanoke, Va. He declined to confirm reports that they were Jordanian, but said the parents, who are both dead, had emigrated from a small town near Jerusalem many years ago.
Nidal Hasan is a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech who went on to get a doctorate in psychiatry from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. From 2003 through last summer, he was an intern, resident and then fellow at Walter Reed, where he worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital's psychiatry staff. He was also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda military medical school. He was transferred to the Darnell Army Medical Center at Fort Hood earlier this year.
An aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, Va., told the Washington Post that Hasan had been affected by the physical and mental injuries he saw while working at Walter Reed.
"Some people can take that, and some can't," Noel Hasan said. "He must have snapped. They ignored him. It was not hard to know when he was upset. He was not a fighter, even as a child and young man. But when he became upset, his face turns red. You can read him in his face."
While an intern at Walter Reed, Hasan had some "difficulties" that required counseling and extra supervision, Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time, told the Associated Press.
Grieger said privacy laws prevented him from going into details but noted that the problems had to do with Hasan's interactions with patients. He recalled Hasan as a "mostly very quiet" person who never spoke ill of the military or his country.
Hasan "did not make many friends" and "did not make friends fast," his aunt said. He had no girlfriend and was not married. "He would tell us the military was his life," she said.
He has two brothers, one in Virginia and another in Jerusalem, his cousin said. The family, by and large, had prospered in the United States, said Nader Hasan, 40, a lawyer living in Virginia. He said his cousin had become more devout after the deaths of his parents. But he said he had not expressed anti-American views or radical ideas.
Retired Army Col. Terry Lee, who said he worked with Hasan, told Fox News that Hasan had hoped President Barack Obama would pull troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Lee said Hasan got into frequent arguments with others in the military who supported the wars and had tried hard to prevent his pending deployment.
Lee told Fox News that, "When things weren't going that way, (Hasan) became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there ... he made his views well known about how he felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan."