06 November 2009

Tragedy in Texas - The New Face of AQ?

The horrific attack yesterday at Ft. Hood has left everyone stunned. First and foremost, we’d like to offer our condolences and prayers to the families of the dead and wounded, most of whom were Army soldiers. Personally, I am still trying to process these tragic events and understand what could have been going on inside the mind of Army MAJ Nidal Hasan. It’s difficult enough to lose a fellow soldier while deployed and conducting combat operations, but it’s even worse to have them slain by one of their own back in the US.

At this time, details continue to be slowly released to the public as Army and federal officials conduct their investigations. In the meantime, the NY Times has published two good primers on the attacks as well as a running blog with regular updates as more information is released:

-Overview of the Attack – see full article here
-Brief Bio and Background of Hasan – see full article here
-NY Times Blog – see updates in real-time here

The Long War Journal also has some excellent coverage of the story here and here, including two important details: 1) Weeks before he conducted the attack, Hasan began wearing “Arabic clothing”. The morning of the attack he handed out Korans and gave away his furniture: 2) Just before opening fire on his fellow soldiers, he shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest.”

As the story unfolds, a few questions that will be critical to consider:

-What events/actions led to the “radicalization” of Nidal Hasan? How long did this process take? Who/what were the key influencers (imams, religious texts, jihadist forums, stress of his job, stories heard from soldiers he counseled)?
-What connections (direct or indirect) does Hasan have with AQ or other extremist jihadist groups? Was he acting alone or did he receive guidance from someone? Are there others out there who are planning similar attacks?
-What actions leading up to the attack should have served as indicators of what was coming (conversations with family/friends, website/bog posts, purchase of weapons, etc)?
-In terms of physical security, how was he able to gain access to the post and the attack site with two non-Army issue weapons? What implications does this have for security at other Army posts and government buildings?


  1. The title of your post could be "The new face of Baader Meinhof?" and be equally credible.

    Seriously, either you're writing a non-fiction blog in which case using a fantasy-based villain to advancing a plot line which will be more entertaining is inappropriate, or you're not.

  2. -What connections (direct or indirect) does Hasan have with AQ or other extremist jihadist groups? Was he acting alone or did he receive guidance from someone? Are there others out there who are planning similar attacks?

    This is actually a topic I wanted to analyze especially in light of the pending policy decision regarding Afghanistan. At the risk of over simplifying this topic, I see two terrorism scenarios regarding AQ. A) Direct AQ involvement (Planning, Financing, resourcing) attacks worldwide. B) Indirect AQ involvement (Ideology spread through AQ Media wing As Sahab) to anyone who finds a calling in their brand of radicalization. This second topic warrants serious attention. The difficulty of protecting America from terrorist threats resides on the intel community having "lines" into every group planning attacks. A Counter Terrorism capability gap is our limitation in stopping an attack from a previously unknown group. This is why a self-radicalized individual is extremely difficult to stop. There are other awakening members that have more experience on this topic than me, but it is clear that we need to have individuals monitoring known AQ media nodes in order to stay ahead of homegrown radicals. If we were to look at a number of mass shootings in America (Columbine, Virgina Tech, ect.) there were always some indicators in hindsight that alarmingly jumped out at everyone. If we have systems in place to monitor internet access to known AQ media sites, we will have a basis that will allow us to put some context on possible warning signs. We don't have all the facts on the Ft. Hood tragedy; however, even if this event was in no way connected to Al Qaeda it still raises issues on our capabilities.

  3. JD, I agree that the second area of concern - namely, the spread of ideology - warrants serious attention. I do think, as my previous post described, that established "lines" into every group planning attacks is actually step two of the overall process.

    First, I think a CT strategy requires a component based on individual and communal trust because AQ members and associated groups work on the basis of theology (regardless of the validity of their interpretation). This serves as the motivational force for social gathering and political pursuits.

    It is clear to us now that Major Hasan showcased hints of progressive thought, but this does not conclude that it served as the inspiration for his actions. However, knowing for example that he yelled "Allah akbar" before shooting provides perspective into his instability - for Allah never has and never will encourage such action.

    The ideology that is being spread, then, must be understood as political propoganda with the intention of recruiting members only. The CT tactic inherent in the strategy should employ a full understanding of this "false idealogy," so that a deep connection can be made. In other words, one must be able to speak one's language in order to communicate and therefore establish a line.

    This process holds for all individuals and groups planning attacks, religious and non-religious alike, because the cornerstone is trust (or as we would describe it, an "ideological trust"). The system that monitors such activity should do exactly as you say: "have individuals monitoring known AQ [or other ideological] media nodes in order to stay ahead of homegrown radicals."

    The difficult question, as presented previously, is exactly how to do this without politically pushing individual or group rights and socially stepping on individual or group identity. Most groups view persons outside of their group just like children do in kindergarten. Even those who can speak a group language and understand its dynamic are seen as observers. Are we capable of penetrating the mind of the ideological person before the attack in order to suppress their possible or actual intentions?