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Fort Hood shooting splits America over Islamic terror motive

Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with 13 counts of murder in the Fort Hood shootings. Was it a 'killing spree' or 'terrorism,' and is the question more than political?

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“We’ve got him on murder, that’s good enough,” Brian Jenkins, a RAND Corp. terrorism expert and former US Army Special Forces officer, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Thursday.

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But it’s not a completely partisan divide: "There are some who are reluctant to call it terrorism but there is significant evidence that it is,” said Sen. Levin, a Democrat. “I'm not at all uneasy saying it sure looks like that.”

Some commentators argue that in this case reluctance by the administration to call Hasan a terrorist is wise.

“Given what looks like the security authorities’ wretched mishandling of the Hasan case -- the guy appears to have done everything but paste an ‘Osama bin Laden Rocks’ bumper sticker on his car -- there’s every reason for the administration and the FBI to want to put off a legislative reckoning for as long as possible,” columnist Tim Rutten writes in the Los Angeles Times Saturday. “ ‘We want to guarantee everyone a fair trial’ is always good cover. But in this case, it has the additional virtue of being true.”

There’s strong evidence on both sides of the debate -- and growing worries that Hasan’s ultimate motive may never be known.

Hasan’s frequent contacts with US-born Al Qaeda recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki and Hasan’s “Soldier of Allah” business cards seem to point to a political motivation that would fall into the terror definition.

At the same time, others have found evidence that his psychological state, not political leanings, were the primary reason for the attack. National Public Radio’s Daniel Zwerdling found an Army memo that showed Hasan, according to Mr. Zwerdling's report, “proselytized patients … mishandled a homicidal patient [allowing] her to escape from the emergency room … and when he was supposed to be on call for emergencies, he didn’t even answer the phone.”

Americans are split on the question. A new Fox News poll has 49 percent calling it a “killing spree” and 44 percent calling it “an act of terrorism.” Sixty-three percent of Democrats call it a “killing spree” while 58 percent of Republicans call it “an act of terrorism,” according to the poll.

Predictably, online comments put the debate in its sharpest perspective.

Commenting on a Dallas Morning News blog whether the rampage was terrorism, “Jen” writes, “Those who are eager to label this an act of terrorism seem to be motivated out of a desire to generalize Hasan’s actions and (possible) motivation to all Muslims in the US or armed forces.”

Commenter Michael McCullough sees it from the other side of the fence.

“Those who are eager to label this a random act of violence seem not to want to admit that the worst terrorist act on US soil since 9/11 happened under Obama's watch and could have been stopped if the government were not obsessed with political correctness,” he writes.

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