Domestic Terrorism: Fort Hood Attack
When U.S. Army Major, Nidal Malik Hassan entered Soldier Readiness Center, at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009 and took a seat at an empty table, no one suspected anything amiss about him. The U.S. Major who served as a trauma care officer bowed his head for a significant length of seconds only to jump suddenly uttering the remarks, “Allahu Akbar” and immediately opening fire to the unarmed military personnel awaiting medical care killing at least 13, with one of those killed being pregnant and wounding over thirty others from the more than 100 rounds he fired from his FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol he carried. Evidence form eye witnesses allege that Hasan targeted officers with official uniform (McKinley, 2009).
Hassan was a 39-year-old US born citizen of Pakistan descent serving as a Psychiatrist and of staunch Muslim faith. Records indicate that his performance was below the expected standards and a meeting was once held by his seniors to discuss his significantly poor performance as well as his weird convictions and assertions regarding the war against terrorism which it is alleged he referred to as, war against Muslims. Records also indicated that he maintained close links with a Dar al-Hijrah mosque cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the shooting (McKinley, 2009).
Implications of the Attacks on the War against Terrorism
Though cases of ideologically motivated crimes against innocent civilians are not new in the US, the Fort Hood-style shooting was not preceded. This was a case of a US trained army officer, and a psychiatrist who turned against his unarmed colleagues in one of the biggest and a heavily fortified US army base (McKinley, 2009). Even so, this shooting fits into the description of the expanded Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) definition that terrorism is any “…unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual…committed against person or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political, social or personal objectives” (Levin, 2006, p.6).
The public backlash on particular groups (Muslims) whose members have committed terrorists’ acts only serves to exacerbate domestic terrorism (Borgeson & Valeri, 2009). Chronicling the words of the US Chief of staff, General George W. Casey, Jr., while referring to speculation by members of public as what may have been the precursor to the shooting, the US army as well as the US society itself is highly inclusive of members of all social walks (ethnicity, race, color, religion, etc.). In part General Casey remarks advised that, “…our diversity, not only our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse” (Zakaria, 2009). Perhaps it can be asserted that, the held acceptance to diversity poses a great challenge to the war against domestic terrorism. The US is a country where the basic liberties granted by the Constitution are held with high esteem to the extent that a slight breach on any one of them attracts untold amounts of public backlash. As a matter of fact, the provisions for free speech make it very hard to draw the line between normal utterances and acts of crime (Borgeson & Valeri, 2009).
The autonomous nature of modus operandi of lone terrorists makes them very hard to nab. For example, the stream of bombings committed by the infamous Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski against university students and airlines industry workers that went on for a period of twenty years. The Unabomber clandestinely executed his plans – sent bombs and successfully killed at least three people and wounded 23 others because of what he termed as American overdependence on technology, which according to him was against his convictions that Americans should go back simple way of living (Fox, Levin, & Quinet, 2004). Moreover, the Fort Hood shooting was methodically executed and caught both the army and other law enforcement forces in the US off-guard, with evidence showing that prior investigations on links between Hassan and al-Awlaki were considered by both FBI and the US Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) as below known terrorism alerts, with a JTTF senior investigator asserting that, “[t]here was no indication that Major Hasan was planning an imminent attack at all, or that he was directed to do anything, “ and that information between the two was consistent with the realm of psychiatric care he was practicing particularly as regards to some of pertinent issues he tackled when attending to Muslim army officers (Johnston, & Shane, 2009).
Some of the most outstanding strategies put in place to combat these highly unpredictable terrorist activities is the formulation of a joint task force that brings together all law enforcement groups to enhance collectivity in tackling all forms of potential criminal acts. Law enforcement agencies also work very closely with other community based groups particularly those with the greatest influence and knowledge over their community to the extent that they can keep a close tab on suspiciously looking persons and regularly report on their movements (Domestic Terrorism, 2009). These community based collaborations have helped to identify cases of hatred towards particular group and devising ways of reducing such to mitigate the potentialities of extreme sentiments cropping up (Motley, 1993).
The American legal framework can generally be considered as significantly strong and efficient as regards to combating conventional criminal acts as well as terrorist acts. The USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001 for instance, can be billed as the most explicit and comprehensive legislation ever made in the history of the war against terrorism (PUBLIC LAW 107–56, 2001). Consequently, it is hereby argued that the collective implementation of the provisions of PATRIOT ACT is the key to combating domestic terrorism. Precisely, there should be collectivity among the various law enforcement authorities as well as all other relevant other federal agencies in monitoring, identifying, and preventing any potential acts of terrorism within the American soil.
In this regard, all the stakeholders should join hands in conducting comprehensive intelligence within and beyond the US so as to easily identify and intercept any communications between terrorists sympathizers stationed in foreign soil such as al-Awlaki who although do not actively take part in terrorist acts carried out in US soil bear equal burden as they inspire otherwise “innocent” persons such as Hasan. The utterances (Allahu Akbah) by Hasan immediately before he opened fire is an indicator that, he was deeply indoctrinated by al-Awlaki through his Muslim faith to the extent of opening fire to innocent officers.
Moreover, it is also recommended that the US Congress should consider making the existing legal frameworks more stringent on any persons suspected to be involved in any form of terrorist activities either. Such legal frameworks should cover all the loopholes that have been used by terrorists particularly, US citizens to carryout heinous acts against US civilians within the US soil.
The ease of access to guns should also be minimized. That Hasan used his own licensed gun a heavily fortified base where persons are not allowed to carry guns except those on security shifts or during training drills is an indicator that the easy access to guns has also played critical role in fueling domestic terrorism (McKinley, 2009). In this regard, it is recommended that guns should be restricted to a few people in America who pass stringent psychological and mental tests.
Lastly but not the least, members of public should be encouraged to embrace diversity in words and deeds as a positive way of reducing cases of extremism among Americans who feel that their ethnicity, religion, race, color, and general convictions have been vilified. The as the US Chief of Staff, General Casey advised, embracing the American diversity is the only way America can remain strong and united against any potential terrorism acts (Zakaria, 2009).
It has been established that Hasan as well as other Muslims extremists within and beyond the American borders hold a negative attitude towards the American led war against terrorism. This is because they are convinced that the war against terrorism is certainly a war “against the Muslims”. With this in mind combating domestic terrorism is very challenging particularly when lone rangers are involved. Moreover, the carrying of licensed guns in the US poses real challenges to the war against domestic terrorism – lone terrorists can easily execute their heinous acts before getting subdued. Again, the effectiveness of some of the institutions established to combat terrorism in the US is still below standards – it seems that some officers still live in denial that terrorism is real. It is very clear that evidence adduced by Hasan colleagues was incriminating enough to warrant close monitoring or even an arrest. However, due to rights and privileges granted to him as an American citizen, close monitoring and/or arrest would have been unconstitutional given the “general” nature of some of the emails intercepted by the FBI.
Levin, J. (2006). Domestic terrorism. Infobase Publishing.
Fox, J.A., Levin, J., & Quinet, K. (2004). The will to kill: Making sense of senseless murder. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Riley, K.J., & Hoffman, B. (1995). Domestic terrorism: a national assessment of state and local preparedness. Rand.
Motley, J.B. (1993). U. S. Strategy to Counter Domestic Political Terrorism. Diane Publishing Company.
Borgeson, K. & Valeri, R. (2009). Terrorism in America. Jones and Barnett Publishers.
PUBLIC LAW 107–56—OCT. 26, 2001: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) ACT OF 2001. Retrieved October 02, 2010, from: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ056.107.pdf/Domestic Terrorism in the Post-9/11 Era (Sept. 7, 2009). Retrieved October 02, 2010, from: http://www.fbi.gov/page2/sept09/domesticterrorism090709.html/
Zakaria, T. (Nov. 8, 2009). General Casey: diversity shouldn’t be casualty of Fort Hood. Reuters. Retrieved October 02, 2010, from: http://blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/2009/11/08/general-casey-diversity-shouldnt-be-casualty-of-fort-hood/
Johnston, D. & Shane, S. (November 9, 2009). U.S. Knew of Suspect’s Tie to Radical Cleric. The New York Times.
McKinley, J.C. (Nov. 9, 2009). After Years Of Growing Tensions, 7 Minutes Of Bloodshed. The New York Times.