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Investigators Seek Motive In Fort Hood Shootings

Nov 13, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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Reported by

Tom Gjelten

Members of Congress want to know whether the government missed any warning signs in the behavior of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of being the gunman in the Fort Hood shootings. In response, President Obama this week ordered an "inventory" of all intelligence collected on Hasan prior to the killings.

One of the key questions being raised: Were the shootings an act of terrorism? Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan thinks the answer is likely to be yes. "It's very, very likely that we will conclude that this is a terrorism, radical jihadist event," he says.

Jihadi Business Card?

Speculation about Hasan's possible ties to jihadi groups began with the news that he was in e-mail communication with a radical imam in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki. U.S. investigators knew about those communications but concluded that they were consistent with research Hasan was doing on stresses facing Muslim members of the U.S. military.

Hasan's apparent research findings were summarized in a PowerPoint presentation to fellow doctors at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One slide, referring to Muslim warriors, contained the quote: We love death more then you love life!

If those were Hasan's own feelings, then he was sounding like a jihadi himself. But were they? Or was it just a research finding?

This week, investigators searching Hasan's apartment reportedly found a box of business cards he had ordered online. On the cards, Hasan identified himself as a psychiatrist, but just below his name were the letters SoA. Jihadis use those initials to identify themselves as a "Soldier of Allah."

'People Better Wait Until All The Information Is In'

U.S. defense and law enforcement officials still won't speculate on Hasan's thinking. Hoekstra can't understand why not.

"I think that's just putting your head in the ground and not being willing to accept the reality that's out there — that this is terrorism-related," Hoekstra says.

Such criticism, however, is starting to irritate administration officials. Speaking about the Fort Hood case Thursday to reporters on board his plane, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "People are looking at it from their own narrow perspective. And people better wait until all the information is in before we have an understanding of what happened."

We do know now that some of Hasan's colleagues at Walter Reed raised concerns — about Hasan's religious beliefs and also about his mental stability.

In fact, some warning signs about Hasan, including his e-mails to the radical imam in Yemen, were investigated by a joint terrorism task force. But Army officials have been quoted as saying they did not know about those communications. Nor, it seems, was there an official report from Walter Reed advising Army leaders of the concerns Hasan's colleagues raised about him.

Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, wants to know what happened to all these reports.

"Did this information ever make its way to a single point where one person or a group of people had access to all the data and could have evaluated it — and evaluated the potential threat that Hasan might pose to the military or to the United States?" he asks.

That question should be answered by the intelligence review that Obama ordered this week. But U.S. officials have an additional concern: Nidal Hasan is entitled to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence. He'll be charged in a military court with 13 counts of murder.

In fact, Hasan himself is the only person who can answer some of the questions about what was in his mind last week. But he remains in "extremely serious" medical condition, according to his lawyer — and may even be paralyzed from the waist down.

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