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Suspect, devout Muslim from Va., wanted Army discharge, aunt said

By Mary Pat Flaherty, William Wan and Christian Davenport
Friday, November 6, 2009

He prayed every day at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, a devout Muslim who, despite asking to be discharged from the U.S. Army, was on the eve of his first deployment to war. Yesterday, authorities said Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, a 39-year-old Arlington-born psychiatrist, shot and killed at least 12 people at Fort Hood, Tex.

In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.

"I know what that is like," she said. "Some people can take it, and some cannot. He had listened to all of that, and he wanted out of the military, and they would not let him leave even after he offered to repay" for his medical training.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. George Wright, said he could not confirm that Hasan requested a discharge.

As authorities scrambled to figure out what happened at Fort Hood, a hazy and contradictory picture emerged of a man who received his medical training from the military and spent his career in the Army, yet allegedly turned so violently against his own. Hasan spent nearly all of his professional life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, caring for the victims of trauma, yet he spoke openly of his deep opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan, who was shot while being taken into custody, was reported in stable condition at a hospital Thursday night, authorities said.

The Associated Press reported that Hasan attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in recent months after an Internet posting under the screen name "NidalHasan" compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikaze pilots. "To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate," the posting read. "It's more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause."

He steered clear of female colleagues, co-workers said, and despite devout religious practices, listed himself in Army records as having no religious preference.

A longtime Walter Reed colleague who referred patients to psychiatrists said co-workers avoided sending service members to Hasan because of his unusual manner and solitary work habits.

Hasan is a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech who went on to get a doctorate in psychiatry from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. From 2003 through last summer, he was an intern, resident and then fellow at Walter Reed, where he worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital's psychiatry staff. He was also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda military medical school.

He had been affected by the physical and mental injuries he saw while working as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed for nearly eight years, according to his aunt. "He must have snapped," Noel Hasan said. "They ignored him. It was not hard to know when he was upset. He was not a fighter, even as a child and young man. But when he became upset, his face turns red." She said Hasan had consulted with an attorney about getting out of the service.

On the rare occasions when he spoke of his work in any detail, the aunt said, Hasan told her of soldiers wracked by what they had seen. One patient had suffered burns to his face so intense "that his face had nearly melted," she said. "He told us how upsetting that was to him."

Hasan "did not make many friends" and "did not make friends fast," his aunt said. He had no girlfriend and was not married. "He would tell us the military was his life," she said.

The psychiatrist once said that "Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor" and that the United States shouldn't be fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, according to an interview with Col. Terry Lee, a co-worker, on Fox News.

At the Muslim Community Center, Hasan stood out because he would sometimes show up in Army fatigues, said Faizul Khan, the former imam there.

"He came to mosque one or two times to see if there were any suitable girls to marry," Khan said. "I don't think he ever had a match, because he had too many conditions. He wanted a girl who was very religious, prays five times a day."

In search of a partner in marriage, Hasan wrote in an application filed with a local Muslim matching service that "I am quiet and reserved until more familiar with person. Funny, caring and personable."

"He was a very quiet and private person. I can't say that people knew him very well other than attending prayers," said Arshad Qureshi, chairman of the board of trustees at the Muslim Community Center of Silver Spring. "You didn't see him attend anything -- school for children or celebrations. He did not go out of the way to engage people. We have thousands of people who come through to pray; he was just one of them."

A co-worker at Walter Reed said Hasan would not allow his photo to be taken with female co-workers, which became an issue during Christmas season when employees often took group photos. Co-workers would find a solo photo of Hasan and post it on the bulletin board without his permission.

Lee told Fox News that Hasan "was hoping that President Obama would pull troops out. . . . When things weren't going that way, he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there. . . . He made his views well known about how he felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan."

And when he talked about fighting "the aggressor," he said that his fellow soldiers "should stand up and help the armed forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan," Lee said.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters after a briefing on the shootings that Hasan was born in Virginia to parents who emigrated from Jordan. The congressman said that Hasan "took a lot of advanced training in shooting."

Hasan was polite and respectful, according to 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, who was treated by the psychiatrist at Walter Reed while recovering from a gunshot wound suffered in Iraq.

Whiteside remembers Hasan as serious. During his initial evaluation of her, she tried to make light when he coughed by saying, "Bless you." Hasan replied that he had coughed and not sneezed.

Hasan was "like my sons," his aunt said, spending holidays and free time at her house. Born at Arlington Hospital, Nidal Hasan graduated from high school in Roanoke, where his parents had moved. He enlisted in the Army after high school and attended Virginia Tech, majoring in biochemistry.

Hasan's parents died about 10 years ago. He had joined the military over their objections, Noel Hasan said. She said he has two brothers, Eyad, a businessman in Sterling, and Anas, a lawyer in Jerusalem.

When Army officials called Eyad Hasan to relay the news from Fort Hood on Thursday, Noel Hasan said, the brother "fainted when he heard it." Initially, she said, Eyad was told his brother was injured and in surgery and later was erroneously told he had died.

Hasan was an avid Redskins fan. "That was his main entertainment," his aunt said. "He was not a movie watcher. He worked hard and had been studying for years. He buried himself in his work."

Noel Hasan was unaware of her nephew's pending deployment. "He didn't call or send an e-mail saying anything like that," she said.

His last e-mail to her, she said, was a little more than a week ago "and it was just, "Hi, Aunt Noel. How are you doing?' "

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