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Senators say Fort Hood shooting was terrorism

Several lawmakers and terror experts at Senate hearings on the Fort Hood shooting Thursday called the incident a terrorist attack, and warned of the danger of homegrown jihad.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 20, 2009

(From l. to r.) Retired Army Gen. John Keane and Frances Townsend, former Assistant to President George W. Bush on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, listen as Mitchell Silber, NYPD's director of Intelligence Services, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP


The Senate Homeland Security Committee Thursday began its probe into the Nov. 5 Fort Hood shooting with few details about what everyone really wants to know: the true motives of alleged shooter Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

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Nevertheless, several lawmakers at the hearing called the rampage a terrorist attack.

That label was supported by most of the terror experts who testified at the Senate hearing. Addressing questions about how red flags were missed in the lead-up to the rampage, experts pinpointed a rise in homegrown terrorism and expressed the need for the government to establish, in the words of retired Army Gen. John Keane, "clear specific guidelines as to what is jihadist extremist behavior, how do you identify this behavior, and how does it manifest itself?"

The Fort Hood shooting, like no other incident, has "fueled discussion about the spectre of violent extremist ideology in our midst," said Juan Zarate, the former Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism.

"There is no smoking gun that reveals Hasan's true motivations and signaled intent, so the patchwork of data points and behavioral clues in light of the incident ... appear to point to a path of violence," he added. "The question then is whether the data points were seen and evaluated properly."

The Senate committee's requests to call on current administration officials and FBI investigators as witnesses were rejected by the White House, in view of the ongoing investigation.

'War within our borders'

Authorities increasingly believe Hasan acted alone. But with eight jihad-related plots exposed in the US just this year, analysts see a definite trend involving homegrown terrorists who are "inspired by violent jihadist ideology to plan and execute attacks where they live," said Mitchell Silber, NYPD's director of Intelligence Services.

The rise of Internet-based radicals such as Anwar Al-Awlaki, the US-born Yemeni cleric whom Hasan reportedly contacted, Mr. Silber says, points to the threat of "virtual spiritual sanctioners" – people whom would-be terrorists turn to in the final phase of their self-radicalization.

"The war has increasingly come within our borders," committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut said.

A terror attack?