The Fort Hood massacre could lead to an ugly "backlash" against the 3,000 Muslims who serve in the US Army, its chief of staff warned yesterday. General George Casey toured breakfast TV studios to emphasise that the mass shooting, in which 13 died and 29 were wounded, must not be used to excuse discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in the Armed Forces. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the 39-year-old army psychiatrist accused of last Thursday's atrocity, had yelled "Alahu Akbar" as he opened fire on his fellow-soldiers.
"I'm concerned [about] a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers and I've asked our army leaders to be on the lookout for that," he said. "Our diversity, not only in our army, but in our country, is a strength. As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."
Army CID investigators have said there was no evidence that Major Hasan, in hospital recovering from four bullet wounds, was part of a wider terrorist conspiracy. Evidence from his computer, together with family interviews, suggest that he acted alone. Psychological problems also appear to have contributed to the attack. The suspect was ideologically opposed to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he had referred to as part of "a war on Islam", and he had been desperate to avoid an imminent posting to the Middle East, The New York Times reported. He was also emotionally scarred from his counselling work.
Major Hasan had recently contributed to extremist internet forums. But there is no evidence that he had contact with a known terrorist. Neither did the mass shooting seem designed to advance a specific political agenda.
He is under armed guard in hospital in Texas. Yesterday, he was taken off a ventilator. If he survives, prosecutors say he is likely to face prosecution in the military rather than civilian courts.
The independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman has announced that he intends to lead a government investigation into the incident, to get to the bottom of suggestions that the army missed "strong warning signs" that Major Hasan was a potential threat. He once had links to the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia, whose extremist iman, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been banned from preaching in the UK for endorsing attacks on British troops.
Newspaper reports said the mosque was attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers. But its influence on Major Hasan's recent behaviour seems open to debate: there is no evidence that he had visited it for some years.