On November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan arrived at the Soldier Processing Center in Fort Hood, Texas. Maj. Hasan was an army psychiatrist whose job was to help soldiers deal with the stress of combat. This day, however, he sat at a table and mumbled a prayer to himself according to witnesses. A few minutes later, he jumped up, shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” and pulled out a .357 Magnum pistol equipped with laser sights. At that point, he began a shooting rampage in which he fired over 100 rounds and killed thirteen people, wounding 38.
Government spokesmen and news organizations make little mention of the obvious fact that Maj. Hasan’s Muslim faith is the likely motive for the attack. Maj. Hasan was of Jordanian descent who claimed that he was discriminated against because of his Muslim background. Other acquaintances claim that Maj. Hasan was a vocal opponent of US foreign policy who brought many of his personal problems upon himself. Regardless, Maj. Hasan was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan soon.
It is believed, but not yet confirmed, that Maj. Hasan had authored internet blogs likening suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies. The postings, under the name NidalHasan, also compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikazes and stated that they died for a cause, “to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers” [citation]. Even though Maj. Hasan may not have been involved with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, his actions qualify him as a homegrown terrorist.
Though the investigation is ongoing, it is likely that Maj. Hasan’s belief that the US is waging a war against Islam played a prominent role in his decision to kill his army comrades. Even though authorities downplay the shootings as not a terrorist incident, Maj. Hasan is the latest in a growing line of Muslim-American threats to national security.
In 2002, former soldier John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo terrorized the District of Columbia and surrounding areas in a series of sniper attacks that left ten people dead. At Muhammad’s trial in 2006, Malvo testified that the pair planned to shoot as many as six people a day for thirty days and to attack school children and police officers with bombs [citation]. They also planned to set up a terrorist training camp in Canada for young homeless men, who would then spread out across the United States “to shut things down” [citation]. John Muhammad is scheduled to be executed on November 10, 2009. [I have a personal link to this series of attacks. I was working in the DC area as a First Officer with Atlantic Coast Airlines during John Muhammad’s reign of terror.]
The night before the Iraq War began, another Muslim soldier in the US Army also attacked his comrades at their camp in Kuwait. On March 23, 2003, Sgt. Hasan Akbar, of the elite 101st Airborne Division, tossed a single hand grenade into each of three tents occupied by officers. The attacks killed one soldier and wounded fifteen others. As with Maj. Hasan, Sgt. Akbar opposed US foreign policy in the Middle East. He wrote shortly before the attack that “I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill” [citation]. Sgt. Akbar was sentenced to death in 2005.
On July 28, 2006, Naveed Afsal Haq entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Armed with two pistols and a knife, Haq grabbed a fourteen-year-old girl and forced her to use the intercom to ask to have the door unlocked. Once inside Haq walked through the offices shooting at workers inside. One woman was killed and five others were wounded, including a woman who was about twenty weeks pregnant. Haq stated that he was angry at Jews, Israel and the United States government for the war in Iraq. In spite of this, the FBI said, “There’s nothing to indicate that it’s terrorism-related” [citation]. Haq’s first trial resulted in a hung jury due to claims of mental illness and a second trial began in October 2009.
Additionally, there have been several cases of Muslim members of the US military who were accused of spying for the terrorists. Senior Airman Ahmad Al Halabi pled guilty to lesser charges after being accused of illegally taking 200 hundred documents from his job as an Arabic translator at Guantanamo Bay in 2003. In 2004, Specialist Ryan Anderson of the Washington National Guard was charged with attempting to pass information about weapons systems and military organization to al Qaeda. Anderson, who also calls himself Amir Abdul Rashid, was court martialed and sentenced to five consecutive life terms. Also in 2004, Captain James Yee, a Muslim US Army chaplain, was accused of espionage after a customs agent found a list of Guantanamo detainees and interrogators in his belongings. Due to mishandling of evidence, the charges were reduced and later dropped. Yee received an honorable discharge and later became a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and cast a nominating ballot for Barack Obama. Yee had worked with Airman Halabi.
There have also been numerous cases of American Muslims traveling to countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen to take terrorist training. John Walker Lindh was captured with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2001. Many terrorist cells broken up in the United States since 9/11 have included American Muslims who had made trips to the Middle East for training.
Not all, or even most, Muslims in the United States support terrorism, but these cases should raise concern that there may be a considerable number who do and who are willing to take action to support their beliefs. In 2007, Pew Research polled Muslim Americans and found that five percent of American Muslims had a favorable view of al Qaeda. A further 27 percent responded that they did not know or refused to answer the question (Inside the Revolution, p. 144). Further, when asked if suicide bombings against civilian targets were ever justified, thirteen percent indicated that suicide bombings were justified “sometimes (7 percent), often (1 percent), or rarely but not never (5 percent).” An additional nine percent refused to answer the question. The numbers increase for Muslims between 18 and 29 years old. These younger Muslims also tend to be more radical and more religiously observant.
Estimates of the total Muslim population of the United States vary widely, but approximately 1.5 million seems to be an accepted figure [citation]. This means that as many as 75,000 Muslim Americans have a favorable view of al Qaeda and a further 405,000 are unsure or refuse to answer. Additionally, some 195,000 Muslim Americans believe that suicide bombings against civilian targets are justifiable with an additional 135,000 refusing to answer. Other polls show that these percentages are even higher in other countries.
The good news is that the vast majority of American Muslims are law abiding citizens who abhor terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. The bad news is that it only takes a small group of radicals to kill a large number of innocent people. We have seen the havoc and chaos that a single killer can cause. If even a small percentage of the pro-terrorist American Muslims ever choose to take violent action on behalf of their beliefs, a few hundred or a few thousand homegrown terrorists could bring the United States to its knees with random shooting attacks or suicide bombings in shopping malls, stores, amusement parks, churches, restaurants, or any of scores of unprotected potential targets. A logical course of action for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to would be to infiltrate American mosques to recruit, indoctrinate and train local Muslims for local attacks. This is the course that has been taken in other countries.
It is vital that the United States take steps to minimize the risk of homegrown Islamic radicals. It is absolutely not necessary to deport or intern Muslim Americans as we did to the Japanese-Americans in World War II. Muslim Americans are Americans and should not be subjected to any sort of second-class status or religious harassment.
On the other hand, the FBI and other counter-terror organizations should investigate mosques that preach anti-American zealotry. In other countries, radical imams have used local mosques as centers for recruitment and propaganda, often using Wahabi Muslim materials provided by Saudi Arabia. Radical Muslims have similarly infiltrated US prisons. The religious freedom of Muslims to worship in the US should be protected vigorously, but that freedom does not extend to subversive activities such as planning terror attacks.
The worst thing that we can do in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre is to pretend that Maj. Hasan’s religion had nothing to do with his actions. To ignore the threat means that other homegrown terrorist plots will hatch into bloody action. Denial of the threat does not mean that it will go away.
An ironic aspect to the Fort Hood shooting is that the victims, while trained by the government to wage war against terrorists, were defenseless to rules against carrying weapons on military bases. Much the same as the way the anti-gun rules at Virginia Tech ensured that Seung-Hui Cho would meet no resistance, Maj. Hasan had nothing to fear from his highly trained, yet unarmed, victims.
It was left to a civilian police officer, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, of the Fort Hood Police Department, to protect our soldiers. Sgt. Munley, a true hero, shot Maj. Hasan as he was on his rampage, saving the lives of countless others. Sgt. Munley was also wounded in the attack.
In light of the ongoing threat of terrorists and other violent crime, it is time to rethink anti-gun laws. Americans have a need - and a right – to be able to protect themselves.
Rosenberg, Joel C. Inside the Revolution. Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL. 2009
Villa Rica GA
November 9, 2009