FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — A key U.S. senator said Sunday he would begin an investigation into whether the Army missed signs that the man accused of opening fire at Fort Hood had embraced an increasingly extremist view of Islamic ideology.
Sen. Joe Lieberman's call for the investigation came as word surfaced that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan apparently attended the same Virginia mosque as two Sept. 11 hijackers in 2001, at a time when a radical imam preached there. Whether Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, associated with the hijackers is something the FBI will probably look into, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Classmates participating in a 2007-2008 master's program at a military college complained repeatedly to superiors about what they considered Hasan's anti-American views. Dr. Val Finnell said Hasan gave a presentation at the Uniformed Services University that justified suicide bombing and told classmates that Islamic law trumped the U.S. Constitution.
Another classmate said he complained to five officers and two civilian faculty members at the university. He wrote in a command climate survey sent to Pentagon officials that fear in the military of being seen as politically incorrect prevented an "intellectually honest discussion of Islamic ideology" in the ranks. The classmate also requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wants Congress to determine whether the shootings constitute a terrorist attack.
"If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance," Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said on "Fox News Sunday." ''He should have been gone."
Authorities continue to refer to Hasan, 39, as the only suspect in the shootings that killed 13 and wounded 29, but they won't say when charges would be filed and have said they have not determined a motive. Hasan, who was shot by civilian police to end the rampage, was in critical but stable condition at an Army hospital in San Antonio.
He was breathing on his own after being taken off a ventilator on Saturday, but officials won't say whether Hasan can communicate. Sixteen victims remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and seven were in intensive care.
Hasan's family described a man incapable of the attack, calling him a devoted doctor and devout Muslim who showed no signs that he might lash out.
"I've known my brother Nidal to be a peaceful, loving and compassionate person who has shown great interest in the medical field and in helping others," his brother, Eyad Hasan, of Sterling, Va., said in a statement Saturday. "He has never committed an act of violence and was always known to be a good, law-abiding citizen."
Army Chief of Staff George Casey warned against reaching conclusions about the suspected shooter's motives until investigators have fully explored the attack. "I think the speculation (on Hasan's Islamic roots) could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers," he said on ABC's "This Week."
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center, said he did not know whether Hasan ever attended the Falls Church, Va., mosque but confirmed that the Hasan family participated in services there. Abdul-Malik said the Hasans were not leaders at the mosque and their attendance was utterly normal.
In 2001, Anwar Aulaqi was an imam, or spiritual leader, at the mosque. Aulaqi told the FBI in 2001 that, before he moved to Virginia in early 2001, he met with 9/11 hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi several times in San Diego. Al-Hazmi was at the time living with Khalid al-Mihdhar, another hijacker. Al-Hazmi and another hijacker, Hani Hanjour, attended the Dar al Hijrah mosque in early April 2001.
The mosque is one of the largest on the East Coast, and thousands of worshippers attend prayers and services there every week. Abdul-Malik said it's a mistake for people to conflate regular attendance at a mosque with extremism.
Many Muslims pray at the mosque multiple times a day, he said. "It's part of family life. It's like going out for ice cream after dinner."
A government official speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the case said an initial review of Hasan's computer use has found no evidence of links to terror groups or anyone who might have helped plan or push him toward the attack. The review of Hasan's computer is continuing, the official said.
Hasan likely would face military justice rather than federal criminal charges if investigators determine the violence was the work of just one person.
There is no time limit on charging Hasan, but once he is in pre-trial confinement, the military has 120 days to start his trial, said John P. Galligan, an attorney who has represented Fort Hood soldiers but is not involved in the Hasan case. However, defense attorneys often file motions that stop the 120-day clock. Authorities have said Hasan is "in custody" in the hospital, but it's unclear if that is considered pre-trial confinement.
Across the sprawling post and in neighboring Killeen, soldiers, their relatives and members of the community struggled to make sense of the shootings. Candles burned Saturday night outside the apartment complex where Hasan lived. Small white crosses, one for each of the dead, dotted a lawn at a Killeen church on Sunday.
Even as the community took time to mourn the victims at worship services on and off the post, Fort Hood spokesman Col. John Rossi acknowledged that the country's largest military installation was moving forward with its usual business of soldiering. The processing center where Hasan allegedly opened fire on Thursday remains a crime scene, but the activities that went on there were relocated, with the goal of reopening the center as soon as Sunday.
Fort Hood is "continuing to prepare for the mission at hand," Rossi said. "There's a lot of routine activity still happening. You'll hear cannon fire and artillery fire. Soldiers in units are still trying to execute the missions we have been tasked with."
At the post's main church Sunday, Col. Frank Jackson, the garrison chaplain, asked mourners to pray for Hasan and his family "as they find themselves in a position that no person ever desires to be — to try and explain the unexplainable."
"Lord, all those around us search for motive, search for meaning, search for something, someone to blame. That is so frustrating," Jackson told a group of about 120 people gathered at the 1st Cavalry Memorial Chapel. "Today, we pause to hear from you. So Lord, as we pray together, we focus on things we know."
Associated Press writers Angela K. Brown and Jeff Carlton in Fort Hood and Pamela Hess, Devlin Barrett, Richard Lardner and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.