Suspect feared deployment, relative says

By James Dao
New York Times / November 6, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Born and reared in Virginia, the son of immigrant parents from a small town near Jerusalem, he joined the Army right out of high school, against his parents’ wishes. The Army, in turn, put him through college and then medical school, where he trained to be a psychiatrist.

But Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the 39-year-old man accused of yesterday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, started having second thoughts about the military a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim, he told relatives in Virginia.

He had also expressed deep concerns about being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Having counseled scores of returning soldiers, first at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and more recently at Fort Hood, he knew all too well the terrifying realities of war, said a cousin, Nader Hasan. “He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy,’’ Nader Hasan said. “He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there.’’

Nidal Hasan was taken into police custody after the shooting spree, in which 12 people were killed and at least 31 others wounded.

Nader Hasan said his cousin never mentioned in recent phone calls to Virginia that he was going to be deployed, and he said the family was shocked when it heard the news on television yesterday afternoon. “He was doing everything he could to avoid that,’’ Hasan said. “He wanted to do whatever he could within the rules to make sure he wouldn’t go over.’’

Several years ago, that included retaining a lawyer and making inquiries about whether he could get out of the Army before his contract was up, because of the harassment he had received as a Muslim. But Nader Hasan said the lawyer had told his cousin that even if he paid the Army back for his education, it would not allow him to leave before his commitment was up.

Nader Hasan, 40, a lawyer living in northern Virginia, described his cousin as a respectful, hard-working man who had devoted himself to his parents and his career.

He said his cousin had been a practicing Muslim who had become more devout after the deaths of his parents, in 1998 and 2001. But he said he had not expressed anti-American views or radical ideas.