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Extremist or crazy? Or both? Two theories emerge of what led to Fort Hood rampage

Almost from the moment the shooting stopped at Fort Hood last week two explanations began taking shape to explain the actions of Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people and wounding at least another 29.

The first is that the U.S.-born psychiatrist was a Muslim extremist who had grown increasingly and publicly agitated about the U.S. military, which he said "seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims."

The second, and not necessarily unrelated, explanation is that he was crazy, or, in the words of former colleagues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, "disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent and schizoid," as Daniel Zwerdling reported on NPR.

Whether Hasan was one or the other — or both — may well bear on his defense when he is brought to trial in military court. On Thursday, he was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder. A 14th count is being contemplated because one of the victims was nine weeks pregnant, according to the Associated Press, which cited unnamed sources.

What follows is a summary of the reporting — much of it based on anonymous sources — that has come to define the parameters of the national discussion and which is providing grist for congressional hearings aimed at exploring why Hasan was not detected and stopped. A Senate hearing is scheduled next week.

One of the most provocative initial reports was that the shooter shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great" as he fired into the crowd of soldiers filling out paperwork before they deployed overseas. Pfc. Joseph Foster, told CNN on Friday that he had heard the phrase, which was used by the 9/11 hijackers. But in an interview that aired Monday, according to the San Antonio News-Express, Foster "said he couldn't be certain the shooter said those exact words, explaining that 'with that much adrenaline, you tend to forget things.' "

The Muslim extremist theory gained traction Saturday when England's Sunday Telegraph reported the link between Hasan and a Virginia mosque that had been led by a radical cleric, Anwar al Awlaki. Two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that mosque in 2001 while Awlaki preached there. The American-born Awlaki has been labeled a recruiter for al-Qaida and is believed to be in living in Yemen.

Not only did Hasan attend the mosque while he worked at Walter Reed, but he corresponded with Awlaki in at least 20 e-mails, according to investigators.

The e-mails were known to FBI officials before the attacks but were considered innocent or protected by the First Amendment. The Army alleges the FBI did not share the content with the Pentagon, an allegation that will be the subject of the congressional hearings as well as a separate review ordered by President Barack Obama. He ordered the Pentagon, the FBI and the director of national intelligence to turn over all files on Hasan to his own terrorism assistant, with preliminary results of his review due by Nov. 30.

ABC News and Fox News both pushed the Muslim extremist view forward on Tuesday in reports that purported to extend Hasan's network of radical contacts.

"Investigators have found Hasan 'had more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI' than just radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki," ABC News reported, citing an unnamed senior government official.

FOX News' report made a specific connection between Hasan and "people associated with al-Qaida" based on e-mails unearthed by investigators.

"These officials would not say if Hasan actually received any replies from the 'extremists' he tried to contact, but one official said the intelligence suggests the people he was trying to reach 'did not take Hasan seriously,' " FOX reported.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hasan gave a presentation to fellow Army doctors in 2007 in which he said, "It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims." He recommended that Muslim soldiers be allowed to leave the military as conscientious objectors to decrease what he called "adverse events." Under "comments," he wrote, "We love death more than you love life."

Zwerdling, the NPR reporter, has almost single-handedly advanced the mental illness theory, relying on documents and detailed accounts by doctors at Walter Reed and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, where Hasan had a brief fellowship.

Hasan was the subject of meetings by "key officials" who were disturbed by Hasan's behavior, according to Zwerdling. He received poor evaluations and he "antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views."

In the spring, the same officials wondered if Hasan was so mentally unstable that he was unfit to be an Army psychiatrist, according to NPR. One official worried Hasan "might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. Another official reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim U.S. Army sergeant who, in 2003, killed two fellow soldiers and injured 14 others by setting off a grenade at a base in Kuwait."

The random contents Hasan left in his "dingy apartment" near Fort Hood don't settle the question of motivation, according to a story from the Dallas Morning News.

A tan-colored knee-length shirt and pants commonly worn by men in the Middle East hung in the closet. It was an outfit similar to one Hasan was seen wearing on security cameras during a visit to a convenience store.

A shoebox crammed with medicine bottles contained one with a label for Combivir, a drug that is commonly used to treat AIDS patients and also given to medical workers who had been stuck by infected needles. For whatever reason, Hasan was prescribed it in 2001.

A folding table next to the kitchen was piled with a white skullcap, a book to interpret dreams, a pile of Jordanian and Israeli coins, and Army green business cards identifying Hasan as a psychiatrist and also a "SoA", which is used to mean "Servant of Allah," and next to all of that was the clear plastic packaging for a laser beam pistol sight.

Extremist or crazy? Or both? Two theories emerge of what led to Fort Hood rampage 11/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 1:09am]
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