The demons of Major Nidal Malik Hasan

This is a New York Times story that gives first glimpses of the internal demons haunting Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and the time line of events leading up to wanton murders at Fort Hood. All text is copied from New York Times website, all rights reserved with New York Times Company (AZW) 

Fort Hood Gunman Gave Signals Before His Rampage

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

By James C. McKinley Jr. and James Dao

Nov. 9 (New York Times) — KILLEEN, Tex. — It was still dark on Thursday when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan left his aging apartment complex to attend 6 a.m. prayers at the brick mosque near Fort Hood. Afterward, he said goodbye to his friends there and asked forgiveness from one man for any past offenses.

 “I’m going traveling,” he told a fellow worshiper, giving him a hug. “I won’t be here tomorrow.”

Six hours later, Major Hasan walked into a processing center at Fort Hood where soldiers get medical attention before being sent overseas. At first, he sat quietly at an empty table, said two congressmen briefed on the investigation.

Then, witnesses say, he bowed his head for several seconds, as if praying, stood up and drew a high-powered pistol. “Allahu akbar,” he said — “God is great.” And he opened fire. Within minutes he had killed 13 people.

But relatives and acquaintances say tensions that led to the rampage had been building for a long time. Investigators say Major Hasan bought the gun used in the massacre last summer, days after arriving at Fort Hood.

In recent years, he had grown more and more vocal about his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and tortured over reconciling his military duties with his religion. He tried to get out of the Army, relatives said, and apparently believed it to be impossible, though experts say he was probably given inadequate advice.

At times, he complained, too, about harassment, once describing how someone had put a diaper in his car, saying, “That’s your headdress.” In another case cited by relatives, someone had drawn a camel on his car and written under it, “Camel jockey, get out!”

Major Hasan’s behavior in the months and weeks leading up to the shooting bespeaks a troubled man full of contradictions. He lived frugally in a run-down apartment, yet made a good salary and spent more than $1,100 on the pistol the authorities said he used in the shootings.

He was described as gentle and kindly by many neighbors, quick with a smile or a hello, yet he complained bitterly to people at his mosque about the oppression of Muslims in the Army.

He had few friends, and even the men he interacted with at the mosque saw him as a strange figure whom they never fully accepted into their circle.

“He was obviously upset,” said Duane Reasoner Jr., an 18-year-old who attended the mosque and ate frequently with Major Hasan at the Golden Corral restaurant. “He didn’t want to go to Afghanistan.”

Major Hasan was born in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 8, 1970. His parents, Palestinians who had emigrated from the West Bank in the 1960s, moved the family to Roanoke when he was a youth. The lower cost of living offered a chance to open businesses, relatives said: first a somewhat seedy bar in the old farmer’s market downtown; later a more upscale Middle Eastern restaurant and a convenience store.

Major Hasan was the oldest of three boys, all of whom helped in the family businesses before going off to college and professional schools. Major Hasan graduated with honors from Virginia Tech in biochemistry in 1995. His brother Anas became a lawyer and moved several years ago to Ramallah in the West Bank, where the family still owns property, relatives said. The third brother, Eyad, graduated from George Mason University and became a human resources officer for a medical research firm based in Virginia.

Against the wishes of his parents, relatives said, Major Hasan enlisted in the Army after graduating from college and entered an officer basic training program at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. He was commissioned in 1997 and went to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., a selective and tuition-free program.

After graduating in 2003, he did his internship and residency in psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then completed a two-year fellowship in preventive and disaster psychiatry, earning a master’s degree in public health.

An uncle who lives in Ramallah said Major Hasan chose psychiatry over surgery after fainting while observing childbirth during his medical training. The uncle, Rafiq Hamad, described Major Hasan as a gentle, quiet, deeply sensitive man who once owned a bird that he fed by placing it in his mouth and allowing it to eat masticated food.

When the bird died, Mr. Hamad said, Major Hasan “mourned for two or three months, dug a grave for it and visited it.”

Around 2004, Major Hasan started feeling disgruntled about the Army, relatives said. He described anti-Muslim harassment and sought legal advice, possibly from an Army lawyer, about getting a discharge.

But because the Army had paid for his education, and probably because the Army was in great need of mental health professionals and was trying to recruit Arab-Americans, he was advised that his chances of getting out were minuscule, relatives said.

“They told him that he would be allowed out only if Rumsfeld himself O.K.’d it,” said a cousin, Nader Hasan, referring to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense. Relatives said they were unclear whether Major Hasan sought assistance from a private lawyer; then, about two years ago, his cousin Nader Hasan said, he resigned himself to staying in the Army through the end of his commitment.

An Army spokesman said on Sunday that he did not know the length of Major Hasan’s commitment. But for medical officers, it is typically seven years after graduation from military medical school, which would have meant at least into 2010 for Major Hasan.

Private lawyers who represent soldiers said it was difficult but not impossible to obtain an early discharge from the Army.

 

A Turn Toward Islam

During his years in Washington, Major Hasan turned increasingly toward Islam, relatives and classmates said. In part, he was seeking solace after the death of his parents, in 1998 and 2001.

 Mr. Hamad, the uncle, said Major Hasan took the death of his parents hard, isolating himself and delving into books on Islam rather than socializing. “But this was a few years ago, and I thought he had coped with it,” Mr. Hamad said.

 Major Hasan also seemed to believe that his mosques could help him find a wife, preferably one of Arab descent, he told imams. Faizul Khan, the former imam at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., said he knew women who had been interested in Major Hasan because he had a good job. But he did not find any of them pious enough, the imam said.

Though Major Hasan told his cousins that he planned to marry sometime this year, he was not known to have ever had a girlfriend, relatives said.

Federal authorities were looking into whether there was any interaction between Mr. Hasan and an American-born imam known for giving fiery speeches at a mosque in Northern Virginia that Mr. Hasan attended in 2001. Mr. Hasan attended the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., when Anwar Al-Awlaki was the imam there, but it is not clear what influence Mr. Awlaki’s rhetoric may have had on Mr. Hasan.

During his time at Walter Reed and the Uniformed Services University, Major Hasan also became increasingly vocal in his opposition to the wars. He knew much about the harsh realities of combat from having counseled returning soldiers, and he was deeply concerned about having to deploy. But over the past five years, he also began openly opposing the wars on religious grounds.

A former classmate in the master’s degree program said Major Hasan gave a PowerPoint presentation about a year ago in an environmental health seminar titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam.” He did not socialize with his classmates, other than to argue in the hallways on why the wars were wrong.

The former classmate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of working for the military and not being authorized to speak publicly, said that some students complained to their professors about Major Hasan, but that no action had been taken. “It didn’t cross my mind that he was dangerous,” the former classmate said. “He’s a chubby, bald guy. He wasn’t threatening.”

Dr. Aaron Haney, who was a year ahead of Major Hasan in the residency program, said there were many people at Walter Reed who expressed opposition to the wars. He also said he had witnessed anti-Muslim or anti-Arab sentiments expressed by soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Dr. Haney trained before he deployed.

One of Major Hasan’s supervisors, Dr. Thomas Grieger, said Major Hasan had difficulties while at Walter Reed that required counseling. But Dr. Grieger said such counseling was not uncommon and told CNN that Major Hasan had “responded to the supervision that he received.”

“He swore an oath of loyalty to the military,” Dr. Grieger told The Associated Press. “I didn’t hear anything contrary to those oaths.”

A person who is familiar with the residency program at Walter Reed said it was not unusual for residents in the psychiatry program to be sent for counseling at some point. The person said that the fact that Major Hasan had completed his residency in good standing and was accepted into the fellowship was in itself an indicator that nothing he did signaled major problems.

In May, after completing the fellowship, he was promoted to major, and two months later he was transferred to Fort Hood, the Army’s largest post. When he arrived there on July 15, his deepest fear — deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan — seemed almost certain.

 

The Move to Fort Hood

In late July, Major Hasan moved into a second-floor apartment on the north side of Killeen, paying $2,050 for his six-month lease up front, said the apartment manager, Alice Thompson. The two-story faded brick complex, Casa del Norte Apartments, has an open courtyard with exterior stairs and advertises move-in specials.

A few days later, Major Hasan bought an FN Herstal 5.7-millimeter pistol at a popular weapons store, Guns Galore, just off the highway that runs between the mosque that Major Hasan attended and the base, federal law enforcement officials said.

The tenants generally saw him leave early and come home late in the afternoon, usually in his fatigues. He never had visitors, they said, but he was friendly with his neighbors.

“The first day he moved in, he offered to give me a ride to work,” said Willie Bell, 51, who lived next door. “He’d give you the shoes and shirt and pants off him if you need it. Nicest guy you’d want to meet.

“The very first day I seen him, he hugged me like, ‘My brother, how you doing?’ ”

In mid-August, another tenant, a soldier who had served in Iraq, was angered by a bumper sticker

on Major Hasan’s car proclaiming “Allah is Love” and ran his key the length of Major Hasan’s car. Ms. Thompson learned of it and told Major Hasan about it that night, and though he called the police, Major Hasan did not appear to be angered by it.

On the base, Major Hasan was assigned to the psychiatric wards at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, military officials said. Col. John Rossi, deputy commander of Fort Hood, said Major Hasan’s function on base was the “assessment of soldiers before deployment.”

In early September, Major Hasan began worshiping at the Islamic Community of Greater Killeen mosque, which about 75 families attend. He prayed there as often as five times a day, kneeling in a plain room with bright green carpet.

 But he was still wrestling with the quandary of being a Muslim officer in an Army fighting other Muslims. He invited Osman Danquah, the co-founder of the mosque, to dinner at Ryan’s restaurant and asked him how he should counsel young Muslim soldiers who might have objections to the wars.

Mr. Danquah, a retired sergeant and a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, told him that the soldiers had no excuse since it was a volunteer Army and that they could always file as conscientious objectors.

“I got the impression he was trying to validate how he was dealing with it,” Mr. Danquah said.

In late October, Major Hasan told the imam in Killeen, Syed Ahmed Ali, that he was leaving Texas to live with his family in Virginia. “He said, ‘Pray for me,’ ” Mr. Ali said.

But he never left. The night before the shooting, he had dinner with Mr. Reasoner and said he felt that he should not go to Afghanistan.

“He felt he was supposed to quit,” Mr. Reasoner said. “In the Koran, it says you are not supposed to have alliances with Jews or Christians, and if you are killed in the military fighting against Muslims, you will go to hell.”

 

Choosing His Targets

Mr. Hasan began shooting around 1:20 p.m., investigators say.

As he methodically moved around the room, he spared some people while firing on others several times. He seemed to discriminate among his targets, though it is unclear why. All but one of the dead were soldiers.

“Our witnesses said he made eye contact with a guy and then moved to somebody in uniform,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas.

He fired more than 100 rounds.

The intermittent firing gave some soldiers false hope as they hunkered down in the processing center, flattening themselves under tables and propping chairs against flimsy cubicle doors.

Witnesses said that the floor became drenched with blood and that soldiers, apparently dead, were draped over chairs in the waiting area or lying on the floor.

Specialist Matthew Cooke, 30, who was expecting orders to leave for Afghanistan in January, was waiting in line to be processed in the medical building when Major Hasan opened fire. A soldier standing near him was hit and crumpled to the ground, and Specialist Cooke dropped to his knees and leaned over the soldier to shield him from being struck again, Specialist Cooke’s father, Carl, said in an interview.

Major Hasan walked up to Specialist Cooke, who had previously done a tour in Iraq, pointed his gun down at his back and shot him several times, Mr. Cooke said. “The rounds nicked his colon and several places in his intestines, bladder and spleen,” he said, but the specialist survived.

Cpl. Nathan Hewitt, 27, thought that he was in an unannounced training exercise when he heard the gunfire erupt.

Then he saw the blood on his thigh and felt the sting from the bullet that hit him, said his father, Steven Hewitt.

The shooting stopped momentarily, and Corporal Hewitt started to crawl out of the room on his belly with others following. Major Hasan was only reloading. He started to shoot again, hitting Corporal Hewitt in the calf.

The first police officers to arrive found Major Hasan chasing a wounded soldier outside the building, investigators said. Pulling up in a squad car, Sgt. Kimberly D. Munley went after him and shot him in an exchange of gunfire that left her wounded.

It was 1:27 p.m.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

10 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Army, Iraq, Islam, USA, war, War On Terror

10 responses to “The demons of Major Nidal Malik Hasan

  1. YLH

    There you have it. Anwar Al Alwaki is involved.

    It is now clear that the radical clerics were behind this and they should come under a more watchful eye now.

  2. AZW

    Yes there is a religious dimension to Mr. Hasan’s problems. And it seemed to exacerbate the psychological problems he was having at work while dealing with psychological problems or soldier returning from war front, his frustration at not being able to leave the army, and his growing antipathy towards the US war on terror, that he had begun equating with the war on Islam.

    It is early to say that Al Alwaki rhetoric played a part in further extreme views of Nidal. However Nidal seemed to be leaning towards viewing suicide bombings quite favourably. The fact that he invoked Allah-o-Akbar before starting his killing spree points to a healthy dose of religion in his final act of “snapping out”.

  3. Milind Kher

    The biggest negative against the extremists is that they interpret the Holy Quran according to their own whims.

    This is wrong. Only those who knew the circumstances and context in which verses were revealed, and who offer tafsirs based on ahadith with proper isnad are correct.

    We have to go by the commentaries of the rightly guided, the experts.

  4. Ex Muslim

    May Allah ‘s peace and blessing be upon the great martyr shaheed brother Nidal Hassan.
    He will surely be enjoying fine wine and 72 Virgins(+ young boys of Arabia) in the company of beloved Prophet in the Jannah Ameen

  5. Ex Muslim

    Sorry the great crusader has not died, yet,but the sooner the better.He can enjoy 72 virgins and countless young arab boys in Jannah when he gets there,Ameen.

  6. Milind Kher

    This 72 virgin hadith I have yet to come across. I have read so many from Kafi, Wasaile Shia, Ghurar ul Hukm, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Tirmizi, Ibn Maja and An Nisai.

    Even Mustadrak, Mishkat etc, but I have not found it. Maybe, it is a Masihiyat or Yahudiyat.

  7. Vajra

    @Milind Kher

    If, by a Masihiyat or Yahudiyat, you mean part of Christian or Jewish tradition, 100% not part of Christian, very probably not Jewish either.

  8. Pingback: The Demons of Major Nidal Malik Hasan « Pak Tea House « debtconsolidationleadsusa

  9. Pingback: The Demons of Major Nidal Malik Hasan « Pak Tea House - watchbeheadingvideo