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Answers Sought in Deadly Fort Hood Assault


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As the United States continues to mourn last week's deadly shooting rampage at a U.S. Army base in Texas, Americans are grappling with disturbing and difficult questions. What provoked the assault that claimed 13 lives at Fort Hood? Could the tragedy have been averted? And what can be done to prevent a similar attack?

It is perhaps natural for people to yearn for concrete answers in the wake of a senseless tragedy. And the lessons of the Fort Hood assault are sure to be pondered and debated for a long time.

At Tuesday's public memorial for the slain, President Barack Obama said the attack revealed that U.S. service members can face grave dangers far from conflict zones.

"This is a time of war," he said. "Yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here on American soil, in the heart of this great state, in the heart of this great American community."

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The alleged shooter, Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, has yet to be charged with any crime. Hasan is conscious and in stable condition after being shot by civilian police. Neither he nor his attorney have spoken publicly about the motives for the attack.

But Hasan's apparent actions and affiliations have come under intense scrutiny. A devout Muslim, he is reported to have shouted "God is great" in Arabic before opening fire. He reportedly was troubled over his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan and he had warned Army officials about "adverse events" if Muslim American soldiers continue to be sent into battle against fellow Muslims. In addition, U.S. intelligence officials say they intercepted emails between Hasan and a Yemen-based Muslim imam known for radical anti-American teachings and who is revered by violent Islamists.

Conflict between faith and allegiance

The picture that emerges of Hasan is that of a deeply religious man embracing the most extreme forms of his faith, according to the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Zuhdi Jasser.

"It appears that he started to be driven towards the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is a very exclusivist, fundamentalist and militant version," said Jasser. "And their mentality is that the Islamic state takes preeminence over any other form of government - to impose the Islamic state by any means necessary."

Jasser, who says his family came to the United States from Syria in search of political and religious freedom, has a message for his fellow Muslim Americans.

"It is time for us to publicly debate imams that do believe that there should be a role for politics in the mosque because until we can separate mosque and state, the virus that infiltrates the minds of people like Hasan is going to continue," he said. "It only can be rooted out by an Islam that is at ease with liberty, freedom, and believes in American constitutional law."

Jasser adds that the U.S. military must be more vigilant of service members who appear conflicted between their religious beliefs and their allegiance to the armed forces. He says Hasan gave clear indications of such a personal conflict and that it should not have been tolerated.

"We need to start looking at warning signs and not allowing political correctness to make us anesthetized to a radical political ideology that has within it a theological construct," said Jasser.

U.S. officials say that while Hasan's correspondence with a radical imam was tracked, the messages did not contain any statements of violent intent.

Analysts note that many people come to the attention of U.S. authorities for a variety of reasons, many of which turn out to be benign. Identifying who will commit a heinous crime - and when and where it might occur - is difficult, if not impossible, according to former State Department intelligence analyst Terrell Arnold.

"You need to take from Fort Hood the basic lesson that you cannot actually predict these things," he said. "The basic problem [in predicting attacks] is life in an open society that has a high regard for individual liberties, and also life in a military community where people are very careful to avoid offending other members of the group by making charges they cannot substantiate in advance."

Fear of suspicion and hate

Several Muslim religious leaders in the United States have condemned the Fort Hood attack. And much like they did after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many Muslim Americans say they fear becoming targets of suspicion and even hate.

Civil rights advocates warn against targeting and punishing the nation's Muslim population for the actions of one man. Vanita Gupta, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says public outrage over the Fort Hood attack is justified. But she adds there is a danger.

". . . that we create policies and practices that result in deep suspicion of entire swaths of people in a very unfair and, frankly, un-American manner," said Gupta.

And so the question remains - in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, what, if anything, can and should be done?

Analyst Terrell Arnold says periodic violence is a fact of life, but boosting honest and open dialogue will help.

"We need to look at ways to reduce the tensions between ethnic groups within our society," he said. "And one of the up-front areas for that concern is, of course, the Muslim community."

U.S. lawmakers have promised to investigate intelligence officers' handling of Hasan's intercepted communications, which reportedly were not given to military officials. The White House has promised a thorough investigation of the crime and what preceded it as well as steps to prevent similar attacks.

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