Ever since the attacks at Fort Hood on Thursday, thousands of people from the media and the blogosphere have been trying to create a profile of Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter. Who was he, and why would he do such a thing? Well, we know some more now. The Telegraph reported yesterday and today that Hasan had all the makings of an extremist.
Hasan, the sole suspect in the massacre of 13 fellow US soldiers in Texas, attended the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia, in 2001 at the same time as two of the September 11 terrorists, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt. His mother’s funeral was held there in May that year.
The preacher at the time was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni scholar who was banned from addressing a meeting in London by video link in August because he is accused of supporting attacks on British troops and backing terrorist organisations.
He also told colleagues at America’s top military hospital that non-Muslims were infidels condemned to hell who should be set on fire. The outburst came during an hour-long talk Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, gave on the Koran in front of dozens of other doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he worked for six years before arriving at Fort Hood in July.
No doubt the first article in particular will cause some to fear the worst, but there is no evidence yet that Hasan was actually a member of Al-Qaeda.
The picture is becoming clearer, but still somewhat murky. What we do know is that Hasan grew more devout following the deaths of his parents in 1999 and 2001. For a few days, there was a gap in our knowledge of how a seemingly patriotic native-born could turn against his own country. Now, with the news of Hasan’s attendance at al-Awlaki’s mosque in 2001, the picture seems to be one of a somewhat new fundamentalist finding a darker meaning behind his religion. Perhaps Hasan turned fundamentalist because of guidance by al-Awlaki, though this is just speculation.
That still leaves a seven to eight year gap after his initial attendance at the church, including his time in residency and his fellowship at Walter Reed.
Lets be clear: This was terrorism. All the evidence collected so far points to this as fueled by Hasan’s religious beliefs. The bigger question is: Was it just one guy doing it on a whim or was it something more carefully planned? We don’t know for sure yet. However, I have seen comparisons of this shooting made to those at Virginia Tech and Colombine, and it certainly does seem closer to those than an al-Qaeda led attack.
Consider that Hasan did not go for a civilian target (as has typically been the case with al-Qaeda type attacks), but the army base, where he knew people. Hasan also apparently had a history of being denigrated for his faith, but more importantly, was about to be shipped off to Afghanistan three weeks later. So he definitely held a grudge with the army. Add that to what was likely eight years of increasingly following a radical form of Islam, and that doesn’t make for a great mixture. In the end, it was probably the thought of having to go fight what he considered an unjust war and killing those he thought were innocent (at best) or had a point about America (at worst) that moved him to commit a massacre. Perhaps as a sort of “see how you like it” message.
There will be the temptation (if there isn’t already) in some sectors to try and link this to Al-Qaeda, or some other group, but there is the equal likelihood that this was a solo guy, who was radicalized enough to go out and do this. It has happened with terrorism linked to radical forms of other religions (think Planned Parenthood bombings), and it can certainly happen with Islamic terrorism, too.