At a hearing on June 4, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, for the first time publicly explained that he was motivated by a desire to protect the leadership of the Taliban – in particular, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the overall leader of the movement. Prosecutors say that as Hasan opened fire on a room full of soldiers filling out paperwork for their upcoming deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he shouted “Allahu Akbar! (God is great!)” The massacre at Fort Hood is part of a trend of “homegrown” al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks and plots against U.S. military targets. For those individuals who buy in to the late Osama bin Laden’s key claim that the U.S. is at war with Islam, American soldiers who are fighting wars in Muslim countries make compelling targets. Before he went on his rampage at Fort Hood, Hasan had contacted the radical Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki over the Internet to ask whether it would be permissible for a U.S. soldier to kill his comrades in the name of Islam. A Pentagon report released after Hasan’s attack found that the military’s official relations with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces were “inadequate,” which might have contributed to the failures to communicate about the threat some law enforcement officials suspected Hasan might pose. Here are some other examples of plots or actions that targeted the military: • A few months before the Fort Hood attack, another jihadist extremist killed a U.S. soldier at a military recruitment center in Little Rock, Ark. • A month after Muhammad attacked the military recruitment center in Arkansas, a Muslim convert named Daniel Patrick Boyd was arrested along with six other men, accused of leading a terrorist cell that plotted to attack the Marine base at Quantico, Va., outside Washington. • A similar 2011 plan involved Walli Mujahidh, who plotted with Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif to use grenades and machine guns to attack military recruits at an office complex in south Seattle as revenge for purported atrocities by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. • Four years earlier, a group of Muslims living in southern New Jersey who were virulently opposed to the Iraq War told a government informant they were plotting to kill soldiers stationed at the nearby Fort Dix army base. In the wake of the attack there, Fort Hood tightened restrictions on who was allowed into the facility, posted more armed guards in strategic locations around the base and implemented the random searching of containers. But while establishing methods to identify extremists is a somewhat feasible goal in a regimented, closely monitored system such as the military, it is not as easy for authorities to do so in the broader community, particularly when the individuals seem to be “lone wolves” who are not part of a formal terrorist group. Two attacks last month on soldiers living in the West fit this category. On May 22, two men rammed a car into British soldier Lee Rigby as he was walking down a street in suburban London. The following weekend, in what might have been a copy-cat attack, a young Muslim convert who investigators believe “acted in the name of his religious ideology” stabbed a 25-year-old French soldier in a Paris suburb. Although there have been no successful attacks on U.S. military targets since the Fort Hood and Little Rock shootings in 2009, six of the 15 jihadist extremists who plotted to attack inside the United States in the past two years were targeting American soldiers or military installations. The trial of Hasan serves as a reminder that American soldiers will remain squarely in the crosshairs of those few individuals in the United States who are motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology. But in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to identify and address the government failures that allowed Hasan to carry out his attack, making another “insider” attack on a military facility in the United States significantly less likely than it was four years ago.
Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden – From 9/11 to Abbottabad.