Photo: Nidal Malik Hasan.
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) Soldiers who witnessed the shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — an Arabic phrase for "God is great!" — before opening fire, the base commander said Friday.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone said officials had not yet confirmed that the suspected shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, made the comment before the rampage Thursday. Hasan was among 30 people wounded in the shooting spree and remained hospitalized on a ventilator.
All but two of the injured were still hospitalized, and all were in stable condition.
Military officials were trying to piece together what may have pushed Hasan, an Army psychiatrist trained to help soldiers in distress, to turn on his comrades. Cone said the 39-year-old Hasan was not known to be a threat or risk.
"I'm not aware of any problems here," said Col. Steve Braverman, the Fort Hood hospital commander. "We had no problems with his job performance."
An imam from a mosque Hasan regularly attended said Hasan, a lifelong Muslim, was a committed soldier, gave no sign of extremist beliefs and regularly wore his uniform at prayers.
The motive for the shooting wasn't clear, but Hasan was apparently set to deploy soon and had expressed some anger about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Retired Col. Terry Lee, who said he had worked with Hasan, told Fox News said Hasan had hoped President Barack Obama would pull troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and got into frequent arguments with others in the military who supported the wars.
Braverman said at a news conference early Friday that Hasan was on deployment orders to Afghanistan. A military official later told The Associated Press that Hasan was to be deployed to Iraq. It was not immediately possible to clear up the discrepancy.
The military official, who did not have authorization to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, said Hasan had indicated he didn't want to go to Iraq but was willing to serve in Afghanistan.
A neighbor at the apartment building near Fort Hood where Hasan lived said they had recently discussed his impending deployment to Afghanistan.
"He seemed OK with it," said Edgar Booker, a 58-year-old retired soldier who now works in a cafeteria on the post. "I asked him how he felt about going over there, with their religion and everything, and he said, `It's going to be interesting."'
Cone said authorities have not yet been able to talk to Hasan, but interviews with witnesses went through the night.
Terrorism task force agents planned to interview several of Hasan's relatives Friday, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the case.
Officials are not ruling out the possibility that some of the casualties may have been victims of "friendly fire," that in the mayhem and confusion at the shooting scene some of the responding military officials may have shot some of the victims.
The officer who shot the gunman, Kimberly Munley, also was wounded.
"She happened to encounter the gunman. In an exchange of gunfire, she was wounded but managed to wound him four times," Cone said. "It was an amazing and aggressive performance by this police officer."
Cone said some 300 soldiers had been lined up to get shots and have their eye tested at a Soldier Readiness Center when the shots rang out. He said one soldier who had been shot told him, "I made the mistake of moving and I was shot again." The commander said survivors told him that during the rampage, soldiers "would scramble to the ground and help each other out."
Photo: Sgt. Anthony Sills, right, comforts his wife as they wait outside the Fort Hood Army Base near Killeen, Texas on Nov. 5, 2009.
(AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)
Cone acknowledged that it was "counterintuitive" that a single shooter could hit so many people. But he said the massacre occurred in "close quarters.
"With ricochet fire, he was able to injure that number of people," Cone said. He said authorities were investigating whether Hasan's weapons were properly registered with the military.
The gunfire broke out around 1:30 p.m. Nearby, some soldiers were readying to head into a graduation ceremony for troops and families who had recently earned degrees.
Pastor Greg Schannep had just parked his car along the side of the theater and was about to head into the ceremony when a man in uniform approached him.
"Sir, they are opening fire over there!" the man told him. At first, he thought it was a training exercise — then heard three volleys and saw people running. As the man who warned him about the shots ran away, he could see the man's back was bloodied from a wound.
Schannep said police and medical and other emergency personnel were on the scene in an instant, telling people to get inside the theater. The post went into lockdown while a search began for a suspect and emergency workers began trying to treat the wounded. Some soldiers rushed to treat their injured colleagues by ripping their uniforms into makeshift bandages to treat their wounds.
The wounded were dispersed among hospitals in central Texas, Cone said. Their identities and the identities of the dead were not immediately released.
Friday was designated a day of mourning at Fort Hood. There also will be a ceremony at the air base to honor the dead.
For six years before reporting for duty at the Texas post in July, Hasan worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center pursuing a career in psychiatry, as an intern, a resident and, last year, a fellow in disaster and preventive psychiatry. The 39-year-old Army major received his medical degree from the military's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2001.
But his record wasn't sterling. At Walter Reed, he received a poor performance evaluation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. And while he was an intern, Hasan had some "difficulties" that required counseling and extra supervision, said Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time.
Faizul Khan, a former imam at a mosque Hasan attended in Silver Spring, Maryland, said "I got the impression that he was a committed soldier." He said Hasan attended prayers regularly at the mosque and was a lifelong Muslim. He spoke often with Hasan about Hasan's desire for a wife.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Hasan's aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, Virginia, said he had been harassed about being a Muslim in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and he wanted out of the Army.
"Some people can take it and some people cannot," she said. "He had listened to all of that and he wanted out of the military."
At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.
Investigators had not determined for certain whether Hasan was the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.
The FBI, local police and other agencies searched Hasan's apartment Thursday night after evacuating the complex in Killeen, said city spokeswoman Hilary Shine. She referred questions about what was found to the FBI. The FBI in Dallas referred questions to a spokesman who was not immediately available early Friday morning.
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