Hasan's Story Won't Be Easy To Sort Out After a mass shooting, people who knew the gunman find themselves wondering what warning signs they might have missed. So it is in the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man authorities say opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.

Hasan's Story Won't Be Easy To Sort Out

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120183526/120186457" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Often, when there's a mass shooting, people who knew the killer find themselves wondering what warning signs they might've missed. And so it is in the case of the alleged Fort Hood shooter. Major Hasan is a 12-year Army veteran, a native- born American and a practicing psychiatrist.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has more on his story.

TOM GJELTEN: The vital facts of Nidal Hasan's life do not suggest a man determined to kill dozens of his fellow soldiers as they sat unarmed in a crowded waiting room. He was born in Arlington, Virginia. His parents were immigrants, but so are millions of other Americans. His heritage was Palestinian, but he didn't even speak Arabic. He went to Virginia Tech. And in 1997, he joined the Army. It was through the Army that he got his medical training. He was going to be deployed to Afghanistan.

GJELTEN: maybe it had to do with what Hasan went through as an Army psychiatrist dealing with soldiers who'd been traumatized, even disfigure by their war experience. Or maybe it had to do with Hasan being Muslim.

Those who suspect he was secretly a radical Muslim can focus on what Lieutenant General Bob Cone, Fort Hood's commanding officer, said on the CBS "Early Show" today, responding to a question from Harry Smith.


HARRY SMITH: Did he say anything as he was carrying out...

ROBERT CONE: There are reports, unconfirmed, that he was saying Allahu Akbar.

SMITH: Really?

CONE: Yeah.

GJELTEN: Allahu Akbar, God is greater, what so many terrorists have said in the moments before they strike.

Surveillance video taken at a convenience store that Hasan visited the morning of the shooting show him dressed in white: a white skull cap, white leggings, a white tunic. Had he just been to morning prayers? Was he preparing for a martyrdom operation? But this Muslim terrorist narrative will not convince everyone.

Perhaps soldiers in the mayhem of the moment only imagined Hasan said Allahu Akbar. FBI investigators aren't sure he really did say those words before he started shooting. And the portrait of Nidal Hasan as a Muslim radical doesn't entirely make sense to those who knew him well.

Imam Faisal Khan, whose D.C. area mosque Hasan attended over a 10-year period, never got the idea he was ashamed of his Army service.

FAISAL KHAN: He would come in his uniform many times. He would come in his uniform and pray. And then I knew he was in the Army. He liked his job. You know, to him that's what he was trained for, you know, to serve in the military.

GJELTEN: There is the other narrative that as a combat stress psychiatrist, Hasan himself suffered just from dealing with soldiers who had been through hellish war experiences.

Hasan's cousin, Nader Hasan, told Fox News last night that Nidal never mentioned he was about to be deployed.

NADER HASAN: We've known for the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare. He deals with stories. He would tell us how he would hear things, horrific things.

GJELTEN: And not just hear things. Many of the soldiers Hasan counseled were maimed. He told a family member that one soldier had been burned so badly that his face had almost melted away. And now Hasan himself had to go to war. Psychologists say there is such a thing as vicarious traumatization, where someone can be affected just by hearing what someone else has gone through.

Or maybe it was the combination of being a Muslim and an Army counselor that set Hasan off. His cousin Nader said Nidal had his own stresses to deal with as a Muslim Army officer.

HASAN: It was the harassment that, I think, was what got to him, was him being referenced from his Middle Eastern ethnicity, even though he was born and raised here.

GJELTEN: Investigators will be exploring these theories and others. Some former colleagues remember Hasan as difficult to deal with, even unprofessional and unhappy. At 39, he had never married. His former imam, Faisal Khan, says Hasan even signed up for a Muslim matchmaking service.

KHAN: His first choice was Arab. His second choice was India-Pakistan, people from the subcontinent. His third choice was Caucasian European Muslims. And his last choice was Spanish.

GJELTEN: The women who were listed he didn't like, the imam said. It could be Nidal Hasan was just struggling with demons of his own making.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.