The shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas, which left 12 soldiers and one civilian dead and 32 others injured, has renewed public discussions about the growing Muslim extremist threat in the U.S.
On November 5, 2009, the alleged gunman, Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, an army psychiatrist born in Virginia, opened fire at the Fort Hood soldier readiness center where troops were undergoing medical preparations before being deployed to Iraq or as they returned from combat. Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
"Violent Islamic terrorism ... was part and parcel of the Fort Hood killings," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said months after the attack.
While Hasan is scheduled to undergo a psychological evaluation, a range of evidence suggests that this shooting is the latest in a series of attacks and plots in the U.S. motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam. Beginning in December 2008, Hasan reportedly exchanged more than a dozen emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. born Muslim cleric living in Yemen who targets English-speaking Muslim audiences with radical online lectures that encourage attacks against the West and non-Muslims. Al-Awlaki's sermons and other materials have been found in the possession of several convicted terrorists in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
Authorities initially indicated that Hasan looked to al-Awlaki for "religious guidance" consistent with research he was conducting for his master's degree. However, according to some reports, some of the emails asked questions including when is jihad appropriate and whether a suicide attack is permissible if it kills innocent people. Hasan also reportedly wrote in one email to al-Awlaki, "I can't wait to join you… in the afterlife."
Al-Awlaki told the Arabic-language television news network Al Jazeera that Hasan asked him if a Muslim soldier serving in the American Army was allowed to kill his fellow soldiers. In subsequent e-mail communications, Hasan expressed to al-Awlaki his support of killing Israeli civilians and mentioned various justifications for "targeting the Jews with rockets."
In an interview with a Yemeni journalist, al-Awlaki claimed that Hasan viewed him as a confidant and he said that he "blessed the act because it was against a military target. And the soldiers who were killed were not normal soldiers, but those who were trained and prepared to go to Afghanistan and Iraq."
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and currently resides in Yemen, is a former imam of mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia. Hasan attended prayers at the mosque in Falls Church, Dar al-Hijrah, in 2001, while al-Awlaki was the spiritual leader there.
In addition to Hasan's relationship with al-Awlaki, there are other indications that Hasan carried out the attack, at least in part, because he was motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam. Witnesses of the attack, for instance, have reportedly said that Hasan shouted "Allah Akbar" (Arabic for "God is great") right before he started shooting.
Also, in a search of Hasan's apartment after the attack, authorities reportedly found Hasan's self-made business cards, with the lettering "SOA(SWT)" below his name. SOA presumably means "soldier of Allah" and SWT means "Subhanahu Wa Ta'all," or "glory to God." The inclusion of this phrase on his business card may suggest that Hasan viewed himself as a militant acting on behalf of God. Authorities also seized Hasan's computer, where they reportedly found sites he visited, including "Web sites espousing radical Islamist ideas," according to a senior law enforcement official.
One person that Hasan regularly associated with before the attack was Duane Reasoner Jr., an 18-year-old convert to Islam whose parents reportedly worked at Fort Hood. In an interview after the shooting, Reasoner said, "I'm not going to condemn him for what he did… He's my brother in the end."
Reasoner is on several social networking, photo sharing and video sharing sites under the names "ooklepookle" and "Salah ad-Din," after the famous Muslim sultan who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the twelfth century. On these sites Reasoner, who describes himself as an "extremist, fundamentalist, mujihadeen, muslim [sic]," has posted pictures of a destroyed White House with the caption "future washington [sic]," Osama bin Laden presiding over a burning White House and symbols of the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Izzedeein al-Qassam Brigades. Reasoner is also active on youtube, where he marked Al Qaeda, Taliban and al-Awlaki videos as his favorites, among others.
There is also little question that Hasan was conflicted about his allegiance to the U.S. army. In a presentation for an environmental health class in 2007, titled "The Koranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. army," Hasan is reported to have 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 also stressed the importance of allowing Muslims to leave the army in order to prevent "adverse effects."
Numerous posts expressing support for Hasan appeared on a range of English-language Web sites and forums following the Fort Hood shooting. For example, Yousef al-Khattab, leader of Revolution Muslim (RM), a New York-based anti-Semitic organization that justifies terrorist attacks and other forms of violence against non-Muslims, posted a "Get well soon" and "we love you" message to Hasan. In the post, al-Khattab justified the attack against the American soldiers, who he described as the "slain terrorists…in the eternal hellfire," and he "apologize[s]" for America's "support of the brutal 'Israeli' occupation entity." In another instance, al-Awlaki posted an entry on his blog praising Hasan as a "hero" who "did the right thing."
Hasan, who grew up in Virginia, joined the military after high school. He received an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Virginia Tech and a medical degree at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Hasan did a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, serving as a psychiatrist, and was also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Bethesda, Maryland. He was deployed to the Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood in the summer of 2009.
Authorities have not yet revealed if they plan to seek the death penalty if Hasan is convicted.
The shooting at Fort Hood is the latest in a series of attacks and plots targeting American military targets by extremists motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam. On June 1, 2009, Abdulahakim Mujahid Muhammad allegedly shot two uniformed American soldiers, killing one of them, at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas. In an interview following his arrest, Muhammad reportedly said he wanted revenge on the American military in response to the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Muhammad also warned that other Muslims in this country "are going to attack."
Other plots against military institutions in the U.S. have been foiled this year. In May 2009, three American citizens and a Haitian native were charged in an alleged plot to shoot down planes at a military base in Newburgh, New York and attack two synagogues in the Bronx. In another case, in September 2009, two U.S. citizens from North Carolina were charged with conspiring to murder U.S. military personnel at a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. The men were part of a larger group from North Carolina that were indicted in July 2009 for allegedly engaging in weapons training and conspiring to carry out "violent jihad" overseas.
Several other American Muslim extremists have been charged, convicted or sentenced on terror-related charges in 2009. In this year alone, more than 20 American Muslim extremists have been arrested for their involvement in terrorism cases. "Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. While the core of Al Qaeda is still a threat to the U.S., the director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD, Mitchell D. Silber, argues that the arrests in the last 12 months "indicate that radicalization to violence is taking place in the United States." For more information, see: Criminal Proceedings in 2009.