US officer goes on killing spree at army base

Author: By David Usborne, US Editor

After hours of confusion when the entire complex ? the largest such base in
the world ? located between Waco and Austin, was on a security lockdown, a
military spokesman confirmed that the rampage had ended with the deaths of
12 people and the wounding of 31 others. Most of the injured had been rushed
to hospitals across central Texas. The shock that was rippling across the
country last night was hardly relieved after the shooter was identified as a
trusted officer with medical duties. Officials said that Major Nadal Malik
Hasan, a licensed doctor and psychiatrist, was shot and wounded by military
police at the scene but not before he had extinguished the lives of 12
people. Military sources added that two other soldiers were apprehended
after the slaughter, though by dusk last night one had been released. There
was no information on what role the second may have had in the killings if
any. Hasan opened fire, they said, with two handguns. There was no reason he
should have been bearing arms as a doctor.

Major Hasan, said to be 39 years old, allegedly opened fire at roughly 1.30
pm, Texas time, inside a personnel processing building formally known as the
Soldier Rating and Processing Center. It is a building soldiers routinely
pass through while getting ready to deploy. However, at least one of the
victims, was identified as a civilian.

A motive for the shooting was hard to pin down last night. However, there were
reports that Hasan, who was trained also in psychiatry and medicine in
Bethesda, Maryland, was preparing for deployment to Iraq and was not happy
to be going there. He had previously worked at the Walter Reed veterans
hospital outside Washington.

There have been six incidents on the ground in Iraq since the start of the
conflict when US troops have been felled by one of their own with the loss
of 14 lives. Last May, a soldier opened fire on fellow soldiers in a medical
facility at Camp Liberty outside Baghdad killing five.

Lt General Bob Cone spoke to reporters on the perimeter of the base. “We
have had a terrible tragedy at Fort Hood today. The situation is ongoing but
we are very close to a resolution,” he said, almost three hours after
the first shots were fired.

“The numbers that we are looking at are 12 dead and 31 wounded.” The
wounded were being treated in hospitals across central Texas, he said.

The shooting will rekindle debate about the strains that have been placed for
years on the US military community after eight years of conflict in
Afghanistan and almost as many years in Iraq. For months, military leaders
have been seeking ways to monitor the mental health of soldiers precisely to
guard against such deadly tragedies. Fort Hood is home to a programme set up
to help returning soldiers cope with stress incurred by warfare.

In Washington aides kept President Barack Obama abreast of developments at the
huge complex that includes housing areas and several schools. Mr Obama
called the shootings “horrifying”. Attending a conference on
Native American rights, he added: “My immediate thoughts and prayers
are with the wounded and with the families of those who have fallen… we
will make sure we get answers to every single question about this horrible
incident”.

For soldiers who are trained to face possible injury or worse while deployed
abroad, there was no emotional preparation for the shock of such an
indiscriminate act of mass killing taking place on US soil and indeed within
the confines of one of their own bases where they would have considered
themselves entirely safe.

“I am horrified just like everyone else,” Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a
US Senator for Texas, said of the killings. “This is a base that has
sent people time and time again to Iraq and now to Afghanistan. They have
borne a lot of the responsibility for the war on terror and for this to
happen at this particular base is heartbreaking.”

As many as 500 military personnel were mobilised at one stage to conduct a
sweep of the base to ensure its security. Witnesses on the edge of the
facility meanwhile saw ambulances coming and going from the main entrance
and helicopters landing inside it to ferry the severely wounded to nearby
hospitals.

Members of families were also assembled on parking lots on the edge of the
base trying to determine whether any of their loved ones may have been hurt
or killed in the shootings.

Fort Hood has close to 50,000 soldiers assigned to it. In addition, it is home
to many military families. As well as sending solders into harm’s way in war
zones ? no other military base in the US has lost more men and women in Iraq
than Fort Hood ? it has seen many wounded soldiers returning from war.

Fort Hood: The world’s largest military base

* Fort Hood, near Austin, Texas, is the world’s largest military installation,
occupying 340 square kilometres.

* It is home to more than 65,000 soldiers, civilian personnel and family
members.

* Two armoured divisions are based there, and up to 40,000 US troops.

* It was opened in 1942, as a place to test anti-tank guns that were crucial
to combating German blitzkrieg tactics.

* 75 troops at the base have committed suicide between the invasion of Iraq in
2003 and July this year ? more than at any other army post.

* The base is home to III Corps, the official counteroffensive force, who are
known as “America’s Hammer.”

* In January 2003, then President George W Bush addressed 4,500 troops at the
base, and told them to be ready for war.

* The base’s Fourth Infantry Division captured Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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