The Magazine

Connecting the Dots

The shooting at Fort Hood was no 'mystery.' It was an act of terrorism waiting to happen.

Nov 23, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 10 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES and THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

 

At about 1:30 P.M. on November 5, Army Specialist Logan Burnette, a thick-chested, baby-faced soldier scheduled to deploy to Iraq in a few short weeks, was sitting in the back row of a small auditorium-like room at the Fort Hood Army base near Killeen, Texas. Burnette was joking with several other soldiers as they waited--and waited and waited--to see a doctor for a final pre-mobilization medical review.

"Out of nowhere," Burnette later recalled, "a man stood up in uniform, screamed 'Allahu Akbar,' and proceeded to open fire on myself and the rest of my fellow soldiers sitting there." One of the shots hit Burnette on his left pinky finger. Another on his left elbow. Another in the hip. The rampage continued for several minutes.

Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood that claimed 13 lives and wounded more than 40. Three hours later, while the base was still in lockdown, an FBI spokesman dismissed suggestions that the attack was terrorism and said that a link between Hasan and terrorist organizations "is not being discussed."

Yet, a little more than a week after the shooting we know that Hasan justified suicide bombings in an Internet posting. He lectured colleagues using the rhetoric of jihad. He warned darkly about "adverse events" if Muslims were not allowed to leave military service. He repeatedly sought counsel from a radical imam with known ties to al Qaeda. He tried to convert some of his patients to Islam--many of them soldiers troubled by their near-fatal experiences with jihadists. He printed business cards that made no mention of his military service but instead identified him as an "SOA," a soldier of Allah.

And U.S. authorities knew about some of this well before the attack at Fort Hood. At Walter Reed--where Hasan spent the six years before his posting to Fort Hood in July--his superiors wondered whether he might be "psychotic" and worried that he consistently sided with jihadists over his fellow soldiers. The FBI had intercepted emails Hasan had sent to Anwar al Awlaki, an al Qaeda supporter with strong ties to three 9/11 hijackers.

But the FBI did not know all that the Army knew. And the Army did not know all that the FBI knew. The participants in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force discussed Hasan's case briefly and concluded that it did not warrant an investigation. If they had performed even a cursory, unobtrusive examination of this man, his contacts, and his radical views, they would have quickly turned up a great deal of troubling information.

Since the shooting there have been dozens of theories floated about Hasan's motivations. On the night after the attack, CNN's Larry King interviewed the ubiquitous "Dr. Phil" McGraw, who speculated that Hasan's counseling of traumatized soldiers might have in turn traumatized him and caused him to snap. In his November 10 remarks at Fort Hood, President Barack Obama suggested the cause of the shooting was--and may remain--a mystery. "It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy." The FBI agreed: "The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration." One of them, according to an article in the Financial Times, was "anti-Muslim bias."

Here is another: Nidal Malik Hasan is a jihadist. That so many refuse to even consider this in the face of the overwhelming evidence might help explain why those whose job it was to keep us safe refused to see it back when it really mattered.

On May 31, 2001, Nidal Malik Hasan attended the funeral service for his mother, Hanan Ismail ("Nora" to those who knew her) at the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. According to an obituary in the Roanoke Times, Nora was well-known "for her leadership in running the Capitol Restaurant," where she would "keep sometimes rowdy customers out of trouble and always had a warm meal for someone who otherwise would not have anything to eat that evening." Nora was just 49 years old when she died, and her husband passed away three years earlier. They had moved their family to Roanoke in the mid-1980s to pursue business interests and left behind three sons and a large extended family.