Fort Hood suspect became more devout after mother's death, cousin says

By Howard Schneider in Al-Bireh, The West Bank
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 7, 2009; 12:27 PM

A cousin of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan said that he began a stricter practice of Islam after his mother died nine years ago, observing the five daily prayers and taking other aspects of the faith more seriously after a loss that affected him deeply.

"He became religious after the death of his mother. Before that he was more secular," said Mohammed Mounif Hasan, 25, part of an extended family split between the United States and their ancestral town on the outskirts of Ramallah in the West Bank. The mother had undergone a long treatment for cancer, and the three sons "were really connected to her."

Like others who knew Hasan, members of his family here on the West Bank were struggling to reconcile the murderous Fort Hood shooting spree with a man they knew as unassuming and seemingly dedicated to his military career.

"He is a doctor and loves the U.S.," Ismail Mustafa Hamad, 88, his grandfather, said to the Reuters news agency from his home in Al-Bireh. "America made him what he is. Whether he became angry or something else, I don't know."

Like many residents of Al-Bireh, Hasan's grandparents emigrated from here to the United States in the late 1950s, leaving what was then a rural farming community that has since been swallowed into the urban sprawl of Ramallah.

The emigration was largely economic, with some investing in businesses, pursuing advanced degrees or, in the case of several members of the Hasan family, enlisting in the U.S. military.

Some members of the family have since returned, including Nidal Hasan's brother, Anas. He owns a small apartment building in Al Bireh and, according to neighbors, teaches English. Tenants and neighbors said Anas left with his wife shortly after news of the Fort Hood shooting and has not returned.

The family members that are still abroad don't visit often, but keep in close touch about family events and news. Relatives said that Hasan's last trip here was around 15 years ago.

He came "as a tourist" for a month-long stay with his grandfather, the cousin, Mohammed Hasan, said. He spent the time visiting sites around the West Bank and catching up with family members, but displayed no particular emotion or interest in the politics of the Arab-Israeli dispute, or in debates about political Islam, Hasan said.

The cousin and other family members, however, did say that in recent years he had begun complaining about the perceived prejudice of soldiers he was treating.

"They would complain that he was Muslim and they were coming from Iraq. He never went into details, just in general that they were critical of him," the cousin said.

But "the idea that because he was a Muslim and there was pressure on him and because of the harassment, I don't think that is enough of an excuse," for what happened, Hasan said. "People are deeply concerned. Because he was a Muslim, it is considered like a radical operation -- it is considered immediately that he was a mujahid, a warrior . . . I do think there is a reason. Only he knows."

Special correspondent Sufian Taha contributed to this report.

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