A U.S. military psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at a key defence base has been moved to a San Antonio medical facility, the Army’s only ‘Level One’ trauma centre, as investigators searched for the motive behind the horrific incident.
The 39-year-old Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an American citizen of Jordanian descent, was captured after he was shot four times by a woman police officer following his shooting spree at Fort Hood military base in San Antonio near here on Friday.
Media here said the Virginia-born Hasan was being deployed to Afghanistan, instead of Iraq as reported earlier.
He has been moved to Brook Medical Army Centre in San Antonio and is in stable condition. Medical centre spokesman Dewey Mitchell could not provide details on the decision to transfer Hasan from an unnamed Central Texas hospital to the trauma centre.
Access to the Fort Hood base, the largest active duty military training post in U.S. with 50,000 personnel and 1,50,000 family members and civilians, has been tightly-controlled.
Extra guards are now posted at entry gates to military housing developments to block media from entering the base stretches 340 sq. miles, with an escort.
Amazed and shocked, Army officials are picking up pieces after the tragedy that unfolded when Hasan allegedly walked into a soldier readiness centre at the base killing people frantically in the worst attack against the military by one of its own men in which 12 soldiers and one Defence Department civilian were killed.
The biggest question before the officials is that “Did we miss the warning signs?”
While the motive for the attack, which also left 30 people injured, remains unclear, reports suggest there were some signs that Hasan, who had signed up with the army after high school despite objections from his parents, was troubled.
Investigators examined Hasan’s computer, his home and his garbage on Friday to learn what motivated the suspect, who lay in a coma, to unleash a hail of bullets on fellow soldiers.
Hospital officials said some of the wounded had extremely serious injuries and might not survive.
One of the suspect’s cousins said that after 9/11 attacks, Hasan, a devout Muslim, complained of feeling harassed by some service members for his religious background.
He was reportedly a loner who socialised little with fellow officers. He also expressed strong views about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and apparently did not want to be deployed to Afghanistan.
The FBI reportedly investigated whether he was behind the inflammatory comments left on a website under the handle ’NidalHasan.’
Hasan apparently got a bad performance review while working as counsellor at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington. Yet the Army promoted him to Major anyway as it did with approximately 93 per cent of its captains last year.
Even if there were warning signs, that does not mean it is easy to stop a tragedy, said Barry Rosenfeld, a professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York.
“I don’t think anybody would have gone to that next step to say, ‘he’s becoming unglued,’ and ‘let’s make sure there are no weapons involved,’” he said.
Hasan, who had never been deployed to a war zone, could not have been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. But counselling traumatised soldiers can also be stressful, as can the prospect of being deployed into a war zone, he said.
“Someone doesn’t become homicidal in a vacuum,” said Mr. Rosenfeld. “The setting and the situation has a tremendous amount to do with it.”
Hasan’s aunt, Noel Hasan, said his sessions with traumatised soldiers had taken a toll. She told media that he recounted one man was so badly burned “that his face had nearly melted. He told us how upsetting it was to him.”
She alleged that he had faced harassment on the job because of his religion and wanted a discharge, while a co-worker told media that he had expressed anger over the US war in Iraq and spoke of the need for Muslims to “stand up and fight against the aggressor.”
Hasan’s family said in a statement that his alleged actions were deplorable and do not reflect how the family was reared.
“Our family is filled with grief for the victims and their families involved in yesterday’s tragedy,” said Nader Hasan, the suspect’s cousin who lives in northern Virginia.
“We are mortified with what has unfolded and there is no justification, whatsoever, for what happened. We are all asking why this happened, and the answer is that we simply do not know.”
With information trickling in slowly, people are confused about Maj Hasan’s acts just before the incident.
As if going off to war, Hasan cleaned out his apartment, gave leftover frozen broccoli to one neighbour and called another to thank him for his friendship — common courtesies and routines of the departing soldier.
The Army psychiatrist emerged as a study in contradictions: a polite man who was stewed with discontent, a counsellor who needed to be counselled himself, a professional healer now suspected of cutting down the fellow soldiers he was sworn to help.
Soldiers reported that the gunman shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great in Arabic) before opening fire, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the post commander. He said officials had, however, not confirmed Hasan made the comment.
Meanwhile, the Arab-American Institute expressed grief over the incident.
“Thousands of Arab-Americans and American Muslims serve honourably every day in all four branches of the U.S. military and in the National Guard,” including those now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, it noted in a statement.