By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
KILLEEN, TEX. -- FBI agents in blue gloves recently converged on a single-story brick mosque on the rural outskirts of town here and pillaged through the giant green trash bin outside in search of evidence. Texas Rangers and news reporters have been an almost constant neighborhood presence, questioning the Muslim families who live on streets with names such as Hamza Circle and Omar Drive.
The Fort Hood shootings have brought unwelcome attention to the band of a few dozen Muslim worshipers, many with military connections, who prayed alongside the suspect, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, at the only mosque in this central Texas Army town. With the law enforcement and media scrutiny, some regulars at the Islamic Center of Greater Killeen have not been seen, including an 18-year-old who dined frequently with Hasan and promoted jihadist views on the Internet.
As the inquiry continues into the Nov. 5 massacre on the nation's largest military installation, in which 13 people were killed and at least 38 others injured, the FBI's quest for clues has led to this mosque where Hasan prayed regularly in the four months since his July transfer from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The investigation extends beyond Texas, with FBI agents also questioning leaders of Dar al-Hijrah, a Falls Church mosque that Hasan and his family once attended and where Anwar al-Aulaqi, a radical Yemeni American cleric, was preaching earlier this decade. Investigators are assessing the religious practices and behavior of Hasan, who has been charged in the killings, to determine whether they could be the work of a radical jihadist with terrorist sympathies or simply a lonely Army psychiatrist.
"It's tremendous pressure," Killeen mosque leader Osman Danquah said. "We are in a state of mourning for what has transpired, and at the same time you have the media swarming down and the FBI swarming down."
Mosque president Manzoor Farooqi condemned the shootings as a "shameless attack" and said he is cooperating with federal investigators. Farooqi, a pediatrician, said that Hasan gave no signals to him or other mosque leaders that he was plotting to kill fellow soldiers.
But more than two weeks later, the rampage still haunts area Muslims.
"It goes into your head and it twists you around," said Nabil Sutherland, 68, a retired steelworker who prays at the mosque. "People come here, you think they're peaceful, humble and praise the God. You don't think anybody would have any affiliation with radical extremism. To kill other soldiers and innocent human beings . . . it's beyond comprehension. The Koran doesn't teach that."
Danquah, a retired Army first sergeant who served in the Persian Gulf War, said he has nightmares thinking that a man who prayed beside him up to five times a day is accused of going on such a spree.
"We want to go forward and heal because this wound is too painful and we want to put it behind us," Danquah said following Friday afternoon prayers last week, as he turned to collect money from worshipers to give to families of the victims.
Some attention has centered on Duane Reasoner Jr., 18, who is said to have recently converted to Islam and attended the mosque. In the weeks before the shootings, he frequently was seen dining with Hasan at the Golden Corral buffet restaurant in Killeen.
On personal Web sites, Reasoner displays provocative videos and photographs of Islamic radicals, including Aulaqi. One of Reasoner's sites features a composite image of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden presiding over a burning White House under siege by armed men in Arab dress.
Shortly after the Fort Hood shootings, Reasoner told a BBC reporter that he is "not going to condemn" Hasan. Of the victims, Reasoner said: "In the end, they were troops who were going to Afghanistan and Iraq to kill Muslims. I honestly have no pity for them."
Reasoner has not been seen at the mosque in recent weeks. He had been working as a substitute teacher for Killeen public schools, but a schools spokeswoman said last week that he no longer is employed.
Reasoner did not respond to several interview requests by The Washington Post. A woman at the modest house in nearby Copperas Cove where Reasoner is believed to have been living with his parents declined to be interviewed and filed a police complaint after a reporter left notes for Reasoner at his home.
At the Killeen mosque, founded by Army veterans a decade ago, imam Syed Ahmed Ali, a stout man with a long, gray beard, dismissed the suggestion that his teachings may have inspired Hasan or Reasoner. "This is not Islam," he said.
Jerry Jewell, a Baptist pastor at nearby Living Hope: The Church in the Field, visits the mosque frequently and said, "Every message the imam has had, he has spoken only of doing good and being peaceful. I have never heard him preach a radical jihadist message."
Some Killeen Muslims said they are angry that their mosque is being portrayed by some as a cradle of extremism.
"You can't stop people from saying crazy things," Danquah added.
Hasan "deserves to be called a soldier, not a terrorist, until the investigation is finished," said Abdulkarim Hulwe, 45, an Army veteran who prays at the mosque. "If this guy carried a Bible in his hand and his name was John or David, would we call him a terrorist? No. I've never heard the word 'Christian terrorist.' Why, if something happens with a Muslim named Hasan, why do we call him a terrorist?"
About 70 Muslim families pray at the Killeen mosque, and many of them have members who are active duty or retired soldiers. For them, the shootings have been a "double betrayal," said Maj. Dawud Agbere, who led Friday's prayer service.
"First of all, these are people who are involved with the military. These are loyal Americans who have served," said Agbere, one of the Army's six Muslim chaplains, who was dispatched from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to counsel Fort Hood's 165 Muslim soldiers.
"But second," he continued, "with all these terrorist activities, if there's one thing that Islam holds sacred, it's the human soul -- human life. How do you just destroy life? The fact that you waste human life, that's just wrong, and people are angry about that."
Agbere told the worshipers that the experience is a reminder of the need to engage with fellow Muslims.
"If there is something we learned from what happened to us, it is that we don't know each other," he said. "If we just come to the mosque and pray and leave, that is wrong. . . . We cannot be an island onto ourselves."
Staff writer William Wan, staff researcher Julie Tate and research editor Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.