Muslim leader troubled by talks with suspect

Said alleged shooter seemed to be incoherent

Ashlee Brewer displayed a picture of her brother, Private First Class Aaron Thomas Nemelka, with her husband, Adrian (right), uncle, Major Mike Blades, and other family members in Utah. Ashlee Brewer displayed a picture of her brother, Private First Class Aaron Thomas Nemelka, with her husband, Adrian (right), uncle, Major Mike Blades, and other family members in Utah. (George Frey/ Getty Images)
By Angela K. Brown
Associated Press / November 8, 2009

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FORT HOOD, Texas - An Army psychiatrist who authorities say went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood was so conflicted over what to tell fellow soldiers about fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that a local Islamic leader was deeply troubled by it, the leader said yesterday.

Osman Danquah, cofounder of the Islamic Community of Greater Killeen, said he was disturbed by Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s persistent questioning and recommended the mosque reject Hasan’s request to become a lay Muslim leader at the sprawling Army post.

Danquah said Hasan never expressed anger toward the Army or indicated any plans for violence, but during the second of two conversations they had over the summer, Hasan seemed almost incoherent, he said.

“But what if a person gets in and feels that it’s just not right?’’ Danquah recalled Hasan asking him.

“I told him, ‘There’s something wrong with you,’ ’’ Danquah said during an interview at Fort Hood yesterday. “I didn’t get the feeling he was talking for himself, but something just didn’t seem right.’’

Authorities accuse Hasan of firing more than 100 rounds Thursday in a soldier processing center at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 29 others in the worst mass shooting on a military facility in the United States. At the start of the attack, Hasan reportedly jumped up on a desk and shouted “Allahu akbar!’’ - Arabic for “God is great!’’ Hasan, 39, was seriously wounded by police and is being treated in a military hospital.

The military has said Hasan was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, but family members suggested he was trying avoid serving overseas.

A brother of Hasan said yesterday that the Army psychiatrist is a peaceful person - and he hopes he will be treated fairly by the legal system.

Eyad Hasan said in an e-mail statement released yesterday that he hopes authorities will give his family information on his brother’s condition. He also says he hopes his brother is allowed the right to an attorney when he gains consciousness.

The brother says the Army major is a compassionate person who has never committed an act of violence. He also says his family is praying for everyone affected by the “horrific events that transpired at Fort Hood.’’

A former classmate has said Hasan was a “vociferous opponent of the war’’ and “viewed the war against terror’’ as a “war against Islam.’’ Dr. Val Finnell, who attended a master’s in public health program in 2007-2008 at Uniformed Services University with Hasan, said he told classmates he was “a Muslim first and an American second.’’

“In retrospect, I’m not surprised he did it,’’ Finnell said. “I had real questions about what his priorities were, what his beliefs were.’’

Danquah said his conversations with Hasan occurred after two religious services sometime before Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that started in late August. He said the soldier, who transferred to Fort Hood from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in July, regularly attended services at the Killeen, Texas, mosque in his uniform.

During his talks with Hasan, Danquah, 61, said he told him that Muslims were fighting one another in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories and that American soldiers with objections to serving overseas had recourse to voice such concerns.

“As a Muslim, you come into a community and the way you integrate normally - I didn’t see that kind of integration,’’ he said. Danquah, a retired Army First sergeant and Gulf War veteran, did not tell the military about his conversations with Hasan.

“I didn’t think it rose to that level of concern,’’ he said, adding that he thought the military “chain of command should have picked it up’’ if Hasan had issues.

Most of the wounded from Thursday’s attack remained hospitalized, many in intensive care. Hasan was transferred Friday to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, about 150 miles southwest of Fort Hood. Army officials late Friday gave no indication of his condition except to say he was “not able to converse.’’

Hasan’s family says he confided in them that he felt harassed as a Muslim in the US military - and wasn’t treated as an American and soldier should be.

He visibly lived his faith, wearing his military uniform to services and a cap and tunic around his apartment complex. But one day, he discovered his “Allah is Love’’ bumper sticker was ripped up and torn, and his car was keyed. A fellow soldier was charged, and the apartment manager where the two lived said the serviceman had recently returned from Iraq and was upset that Hasan is Muslim.

Authorities don’t know if Hasan’s faith or encounters with other soldiers played any role in the attack at Fort Hood, and a motive is still not clear.

Still, some of the thousands of Muslims in the US military worry that one burst of violence could unravel all of their work to be accepted as loyal, dedicated soldiers, and that their reputation could be another casualty of the attack.

“Just as this guy in Fort Hood doesn’t represent every single Muslim in the world or in this county, the few ignorant or racist people that remain in the military, they are so few and far between, they do not represent the military at large,’’ said Ashkan Bayatpour, 25, a US Navy veteran and the American-born son of Iranian immigrants.

Army Chief of Staff George Casey said this week he worried about a backlash after the shootings. However, leaders of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council predict that any backlash will be limited. Military personnel often have a more sophisticated world view after traveling the globe and working with people from diverse backgrounds, said Abdul-Rashid Abdullah, a US Army veteran who served from 1991 to 1998.

There is no exact count of Muslims in the military.