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Fort Hood suspect: Portrait of a terrorist?

Ties surface between chief suspect in the Fort Hood rampage and a jihadist cleric in Yemen, giving impetus to arguments that the tragedy was a terrorist act.

By Staff writer, Tracey D. SamuelsonContributor / November 10, 2009

General Robert Cone speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the Fort Hood Army post, Texas, Monday.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters


Fort Hood, Texas

The possibility that the Fort Hood shootings are both "an isolated incident," as the base commander here described them, and a terrorist attack is becoming increasingly real as more information emerges about alleged perpetrator Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

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Major Hasan's antiwar statements and his deepening grudge with the Army over its refusal to discharge him led many analysts to suggest initially that last Thursday's attack was the act of a desperate and perhaps mentally ill individual. On Monday, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the Fort Hood commander, called the rampage, which killed 13 people and wounded 29, "an isolated incident."

But emerging connections between Hasan and a radical Muslim cleric, echoing reports from US intelligence officials that Hasan had attempted to contact "people associated with Al Qaeda," are fueling speculation within the government that the attack is in fact an act of terror aimed at the heart of a US military poised to further ramp up operations in Afghanistan.

If it turns out that Hasan had political motivations for his brutally precise attack on fellow soldiers at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center, then the rampage would qualify as the biggest terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Independent, said Sunday.

In determining the true nature of the crime, the US must consider Al Qaeda's "organized endeavor to radicalize individuals" and the extent to which Hasan had a political motive, says Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University and author of "Inside Terrorism." (Hasan, wounded during the rampage and recuperating in the hospital, has not yet been charged.)

Terrorism is "violence designed to register some protest and/or to change the outcome of some political issue," says Professor Hoffman. "Certainly this type of leaderless terrorism is not an organic phenomenon. Terrorist organizations are actively encouraging people – through the Internet and other means – to engage in violence of their own."

Senator Lieberman's Homeland Security committee has "looked closely at the role of the Internet in radicalization," Hoffman adds.

Reports surfaced Monday that the unmarried, 30-something psychiatrist had kept up contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical cleric now living in Yemen who, for a time, presided over a mosque in Virginia where Hasan had worshipped. The New York Times reported that FBI and Army investigators knew Hasan had communicated with Mr. Awlaki last year and this year, but dropped an inquiry "after deciding that the messages warranted no further action."