HOUSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has charged a military psychiatrist with 13 counts of murder in last week’s shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base, which shocked the country as it prepared to celebrate Veterans Day.
An Army spokesman said on Thursday that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, a Muslim born in the United States of immigrant parents, was charged with murdering the 13 victims of the November 5 rampage at Fort Hood, the world’s biggest military facility.
He could face the death penalty and the case has drawn criticism of army intelligence after it became known that Hasan had been in contact with an Islamic figure sympathetic to al Qaeda.
President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how U.S. intelligence agencies handled information they may have gathered about Hasan following questions about whether authorities may have missed warning signs about him.
Hasan is undergoing treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas for wounds from the gunshots that took him down during the attack.
If convicted of premeditated murder by a military court he could face the death penalty, a U.S. military official said.
The Army is not ruling out bringing future charges against Hasan. “We are doing everything possible and we are looking at every reason for this shooting,” said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Hasan’s lawyer, retired Col. John Galligan, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Intelligence agencies learned that Hasan had contacts with an Islamist sympathetic to al Qaeda and relayed the information to law enforcement authorities before last week’s attack. Officials have said no action was taken.
Obama sent a memorandum to the secretary of defense, directors of National Intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation dated November 10 and released on Thursday. In it he said he ordered the review the day after the shooting.
“I directed that an immediate inventory be conducted of all intelligence in U.S. Government files that existed prior to November 6, 2009, relevant to the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, especially anything having to do with the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, U.S. Army,” Obama said.
The president also ordered an immediate review of how intelligence was handled and shared between the intelligence agencies and other government departments.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned government officials not to leak confidential information about the case.
“I worry a lot that it has the potential to jeopardize a criminal investigation,” Gates told reporters. “My view is everybody ought to just shut up.”
Despite sweeping reforms after the September 11 attacks in 2001, counter-terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann said it was “disturbing” and “difficult to understand” why the U.S. government has yet to find a way to ensure that intelligence and law enforcement authorities share critical information.
“It’s no secret that there are still the same frustrations, in terms of sharing the information for use in law enforcement cases, as there have always been,” Kohlmann said.
In the Hasan case, intelligence agencies monitoring his contacts with an anti-American imam shared the information with a joint terrorism task force led by the FBI. The Pentagon said it was not informed until after the shooting spree.
Hasan spent years counseling wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, many of whom had lost limbs fighting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was transferred to Fort Hood in April and was to have been deployed to Afghanistan. (Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Adam Entous in Washington and Jim Wolf in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Editing by Chris Wilson)