By Nancy A. Youssef
WASHINGTON — The Army psychiatrist suspected of killing 12 soldiers at Fort Hood during a shooting rampage was in the “deployment window” to be sent to either Afghanistan or Iraq, military officials said Friday.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, shouted “Allahu Akhbar,” God is great in Arabic, during the shooting spree, the officials quoted witnesses as saying. The cry is a traditional Muslim blessing.
Some military officials said Hasan was to be deployed to Iraq; others said Afghanistan. All of the roughly 15,000 troops currently deployed out of Fort Hood, the world’s largest military installation, currently are serving in Iraq.
It’s still unclear why Hasan was at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where soldiers undergo medical and dental examinations in preparation for deployment or upon their return. As an Army psychiatrist specializing in traumatic stress, Hasan might have been there to treat soldiers. Or he might have been
preparing for his own deployment. Or he possibly wasn’t supposed to be there at all.
Military officials say Hasan opened fire with two handguns at the center at 1:30 p.m. Central time Thursday, firing into clusters of soldiers who were waiting to be examined. The military has not released the identities of the dead, and it was unknown whether most were undergoing their final processing before deploying or had just arrived from Iraq and Afghanistan and were getting initial medical checks.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander, said Friday that 28 of the 31 wounded remain in the hospital. Half of the wounded required surgery, he said.
Military and FBI investigators are determining whether some of those killed or wounded were struck by friendly fire. During the rampage, a policewoman shot Hasan four times. Hasan remains hospitalized under the continuous eye of investigators. He has not given them an interview, Cone said. The policewoman is among the wounded.
U.S. Army officials also released more details about Hasan, saying he was born in Virginia and joined the military on June 22, 1997. Hasan is not married, the Army said, and had never served overseas. But he had several military awards, including two National Defense Service Medals and a Global War on Terror Medal.
Hasan’s Muslim faith and his possible support for the use of suicide to defend his faith are also part of the investigation. In an interview Friday with the “Today” show, Cone confirmed reports that witnesses gave “first-hand” accounts that Hasan cried out “Allahu Akhbar” during the shooting.
In addition, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Pentagon spokesman, called reports that Hasan posted a message six months on an Internet chat that equated suicide bombings with Japanese kamikaze bombers “an area of interest.”
The comment, posted by someone who identified himself as NidalHasan read in part that to say that kamikaze pilots “committed suicide is inappropriate. It’s more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause.” Suicide is strictly banned in Islam.
Hasan’s family defended him, saying that he was loyal to his American roots. Nader Hasan, the suspect’s first cousin, released a statement to the Washington Post describing the suspect as an American-born Muslim who was educated in Virginia.
“As Nidal Hasan’s first cousin, and because his parents are no longer alive, I wanted to issue a statement on behalf of my family. We are shocked and saddened by the terrible events at Fort Hood today. We send the families of the victims our most heartfelt sympathies,” the statement read. “We are filled with grief for the families of today’s victims. Our family loves America. We are proud of our country, and saddened by today’s tragedy. Because this situation is still unfolding, we have nothing else that we are able to share with you at this time.
Within the military there was shock that a fellow soldier would attack them on base, as Muslim soldiers worried about retaliation for the attacks from comrades. There are 2,580 Muslim soldiers in the Army, 1,563 on active duty, according to Army statistics.
The bodies of some of those killed will be transferred to Dover Air Force Base, said Bergner.
Four hours after the military pronounced him dead, the Army said Hasan was in fact alive. Military officials continued to mangle the suspect’s name; a Fort Hood press release Friday morning identified him as a Hasan Nidal Malik.
Shortly after the shooting, Cone said Hasan was killed; four hours later, he said he was alive and under continuous supervision by law enforcement. Late Thursday, U.S. military officials leaked Hasan’s personnel record at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in which he received a poor review.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.