- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan came to the attention of terrorism investigators late last year, but the FBI ultimately determined that there was not enough evidence to warrant a full-scale investigation into him, three senior investigation officials said Monday.

The three officials, who only would speak on the condition of anonymity because the investigation into the Army base massacre in Texas is ongoing, said Maj. Hasan drew scrutiny from a Joint Terrorism Task Force after being in contact with someone whom authorities were monitoring. The officials would not specify which task force.

The officials refused to confirm media reports that the person whom Maj. Hasan contacted was radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was jailed in Yemen and wrote a blog post Monday praising Maj. Hasan.

Meanwhile on Monday, hospital officials at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center said Maj. Hasan was alert and talking, but authorities say he has refused to speak to investigators probing Thursday’s shooting rampage that left 13 dead and 29 wounded.

Maj. Hasan — who has been hospitalized since he was shot four times by a civilian police officer after, officials said, he opened fire into a soldier processing center — has not been charged in the shooting rampage. But the three law-enforcement officials said he will be charged in military court instead of civilian court.

The officials said that all evidence so far points to Maj. Hasan acting alone, without direction from anyone else.

They said Maj. Hasan’s contact with the man under surveillance was related to research that he was doing in his job as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Medical Center last year.

“There was no indication that Major Hasan was planning any attack at all,” one of the officials said.

The officials said they looked into Maj. Hasan’s background when they learned about him, but they refused to say whether they spoke to him.

They said that without any evidence of impending violence or a potential threat, they did not have the authority to continue a full-fledged investigation.

The officials said they could not be certain whether the Army knew about investigators’ interest in Maj. Hasan. Members of the military would have known about the interest in Maj. Hasan because the Department of Defense takes part in joint terrorism task forces. It is not clear whether the Army knew about the actual inquiry into Maj. Hasan, the officials said.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has ordered a full review of the case to determine whether any policies or practices should be changed.

Legal experts say it is likely that Maj. Hasan could ultimately face the death penalty, even though the judicial process in his case could take years, if not decades to resolve, with mental health concerns and religious extremism on the forefront.

“I think it’s virtually certain that this case would be referred to as a capital case given the crime and the fact that there are multiple victims,” said Michelle Lindo McCluer, executive director of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington.

Maj. Hasan’s lawyer, retired Col. John P. Galligan, has asked investigators not to question his client, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Galligan was on his way to San Antonio. Maj. Hasan, who is entitled to free military legal counsel, met with his attorney Monday night.

There have been only a few dozen cases in the past 25 years when the death penalty has been on the table at military court-martial proceedings, Ms. McCluer said.

“Of the 15 [military cases] where the death penalty has been adjudged, there are only five right now who haven’t had their cases overturned on appeal and gotten a lowered sentence,” she said.

The last soldier put to death was John Bennett, who was hanged in 1961 for rape and attempted murder. Currently, five military personnel are on death row.

Army officials said that as of Monday afternoon, 16 shooting victims remained hospitalized with seven of those in intensive care, according to the Associated Press.

As the Fort Hood community comes to terms with the tragedy, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were expected to attend a memorial service at the massive military base on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the imam of a Falls Church mosque where Maj. Hasan had attended services when he lived in the Washington area, held a news conference Monday afternoon. He said the shooting suspect was one of a regular congregation of 3,000 worshippers and did not stand out to leaders there.

“Our staff has said we observed him in a casual way. He was not a person who was here every day,” said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center.

“I think that probably if you are trying to hide in a crowd of people, then maybe this might be a good place to hide, but it’s not a place that you are going to be provoked to violence.”

The imam acknowledged concerns over the radicalization of Islam but urged caution in creating guilt by association for those who were practicing their Muslim faith. Some pundits and terrorism experts, however, were angry that Maj. Hasan had expressed anti-American views publicly before and said the military should have investigated his prior conduct.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, called on federal investigators to “preserve” all documents and evidence related to the Fort Hood shootings. He also accused the administration of withholding “critical information” from members of Congress about the incident and Maj. Hasan.

“President Obama said people should not jump to conclusions about what happened at Fort Hood, but the administration is in possession of critical information related to the attack that they are refusing to release to Congress or the American people,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “I intend to push for intense review of this and other issues related to the performance of the intelligence community and whether or not information necessary for military, state and local officials to provide for the security of the post was provided to them.”

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