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US army base gunman wakes up from coma

By Seema Hakhu Kachru
November 10, 2009 16:03 IST
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United States army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people at a military base near Houston, has regained consciousness and is able to talk after days in coma.

Hasan, 39, who slipped into a coma after being shot by a woman police officer following his shooting spree at the Fort Hood military base on Thursday, is conscious now, hospital sources said.

However, it is not clear yet if officials have started interrogating him about the motive behind the horrific mass killing by Hasan, who is undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Centre in San Antonio. Major Hasan is in a stable condition and is able to talk, said Dewey Mitchell, a Brooke Army Medical Centre spokesman.

Some media reports said Hasan refused to give interviews to investigating agencies and wanted to speak to his lawyer first, before making himself available to questioning. Investigators from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been waiting to question Hasan, as they try to establish a motive for the shooting, and determine whether the suspect had any assistance or instigation from anyone else.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported today that Major Hasan was in close contact with radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, known for his Al Qaeda connections.  American intelligence agencies were aware of Major Hasan's links with al-Awlaki.

However, Major Hasan was quietly dropped off from an investigation, as intelligence officials concluded that there is nothing suspect in his e-mails sent to the cleric, that would lead towards any threat of violence, the paper said. Al-Awlaki, who is known to be in contact with two 9/11 hijackers, called Hasan a hero on his website on Monday.

The Washington Post too reported the radical linkages and views of Hasan, saying he warned a roomful of senior army physicians a year and a half ago that to avoid 'adverse events', the military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors, instead of fighting in wars against other Muslims.

However, the FBI, in a statement, ruled out Hasan being part of any terrorist plot. "At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Malik Nidal Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot," they said.

"The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration. We are working with the military to obtain, review and analyse all information relating to Major Hasan, in order to allow for a better understanding of the facts and circumstances that led to the Fort Hood shooting," it said.

The FBI said Hasan came to the attention of the agency in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by one of its Joint Terrorism Task Forces. JTTFs are FBI-led, multi-agency teams made up of FBI agents and other federal investigators, including those from the Department of Defence, and state and local law enforcement officers.

"Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with the research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Centre," the FBI said.

"Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning. Other communications, of which the FBI was aware, were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF," it said.

The Washington Post said that in late June 2007, Hasan stood before his supervisors and nearly 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims who were conflicted about fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims," Hasan said in the presentation, according to the daily.

Hasan, a Virginia-born American citizen of Jordanian descent, had fired off more than 100 rounds on Thursday within 10 minutes, at a soldier processing centre before a policewoman shot him in the torso.

Hasan's motives for the shooting are unknown, but some reports said he had been unhappy about being deployed to Afghanistan.

Authorities continue to refer to Hasan as the only suspect in the shootings, but they won't say when charges would be filed and said they have not determined a motive.

Army officials have warned people not to jump to conclusions about Major Hasan's motives. Fifteen injured soldiers remain hospitalised and are being treated for injuries sustained in the massacre, Lieutenant General Robert Cone said, adding that 27 soldiers have been discharged. The Army is now focusing its efforts on behavioural assessments and counseling for those involved.

"We're not sure what the impact of the incident has been on the larger Fort Hood population," General Cone told reporters.

For the past three days, efforts have been focused on stress evaluation. "Problems tend to happen down the road 30, 60, 90 days and so that's what we're really focused on," Cone said.

More than 40 behavioral support specialists are on hand at Fort Hood to help soldiers and families deal with their stress and grieving.

"Hasan was a soldier and we have other soldiers who might have the same stress and indicators that he had," General Cone said. A memorial service, which will be attended by President Barack Obama, has also been planned.

The ceremony will focus on the families of victims and the Fort Hood community as a whole. Fort Hood currently has high security measures in place, mainly to reassure the base residents that they are being kept safe, according to General Cone.

Fort Hood, near the town of Killeen, is the largest US base in the world and houses nearly 40,000 US troops.

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Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
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