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Fort Hood shooting: Al Qaeda now portrays Nidal Hasan as terrorism star

Al Qaeda now hails Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, suspect in the Fort Hood shooting, as a 'trailblazer' for how to attack the US. Some analysts say that praise points up the group's organizational weakness.

By Staff writer / October 19, 2010

In this courtroom sketch, Maj. Nidal Hasan (l.) listens during a hearing inside the U.S. Magistrate court Oct. 12, in Fort Hood, Texas.

Pat Lopez/AP



Whether someone other than Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had a guiding hand in an attack that killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas last year remains an open question, as military proceedings against Hasan get under way in Texas.

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But Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups say no matter: They are hailing Hasan, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, as a hero worthy of emulation. Though the Nov. 5 shooting was not on the scale of a 9/11-style attack, it served the same purpose: to terrify "the Crusader West" and shake America off kilter, according to an Al Qaeda spokesman.

"Hasan has become almost everything they've been hoping … he's legendary now within their movement," says Jarret Brachman, an expert on international terrorist groups and author of "Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice."

Hasan's ties to US-born Muslim cleric and terrorist recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki have given rise to the theory that Hasan carried out the first international terrorist attack against America since 9/11.

In the months after the shooting, Al Qaeda doubted that line of reasoning, because a minor online essay about martyrdom was all that could be linked to Hasan. More recently, however, the international jihadist group has sought to portray Hasan as a terrorist "trailblazer" who conducted a "historic and trend-setting" operation, though some say Al Qaeda's embrace of the Fort Hood incident indicates that it is now willing to settle for inflicting damage that, while deadly, is much less spectacular than a 9/11-style attack.

"The Mujahid brother Nidal Hasan has shown us what one righteous Muslim with an assault rifle can do for his religion and brothers in faith, and has reminded us of how much pride and joy a single act of resistance and courage can instill in the hearts of Muslims everywhere," American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a video released March 7. "The Mujahid brother Nidal Hasan, by the grace of Allah and with a single 30-minute battle, singlehandedly brought the morale of the American military and public to its lowest point in years."

" 'Hasan proves that you can be Al Qaeda by not even being Al Qaeda' – that's the model they're now promoting," says Mr. Brachman. "He has populist appeal within the jihadi movement. The fact that he's not exceptional … is what makes him so compelling."