Fort Hood Motive Terrorism or Mental Illness?

However, his cousin Nader Hasan believes the upcoming deployment is what set him off. The cousin said the family was close -- "my mom is his mom" and yet "we didn't know he was being deployed until we heard it on the news today."

To some, an Internet message posted this spring under Hasan's name that argues suicide bombers are not committing murder but rather "to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers" is evidence enough that the shooting at Fort Hood was an act of terrorism.

"This man put out his thoughts on blogs on the War in Iraq, he equated the actions of a suicide bomber to a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to protect his troops," said Dr. Cyril Wecht, a lawyer and forensic psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "When you correlate this with his beliefs societally and religiously and so on, to be hesitant and embarrassed to feel that you are identifying him as a Muslim acting out [for terrorist reasons] is pusillanimous and unrealistic and dangerous."

As of Friday morning, the Associated Press reports that U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Hasan was planning his shooting spree or collaborating with a radical group or organization.

But if he was indeed acting alone, psychiatrist Dr. Steven Dinwiddie said among solo mass murderers, mental illness usually attracts and twists religious beliefs -- not the other way around.

Mental Illness, Murder and Religion Are Complex Meld

"I think it would be a mistake for people to theorize [he did this] because he is an adherent of this or that religious faith," said Dinwiddie, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago. "The mental illness comes first, then flowing from that is the adoption of perhaps, unusual, religious beliefs."

Afkhami also wondered if the public will place too much emphasis on Hasan's religion. Based on Afkhami's experience lecturing and working with the military, and plain common sense, it follows that few, if any, of those who oppose the war have turned to radical acts such as a shooting rampage.

"We're missing a core underlying issue, there are tons of religious folks who are morally opposed to the war on some level who are still serving in the military and get things done," said Afkhami.

Rather, Afkhami is convinced that a combination of stressors in Hasan's life -- especially in his role as a military psychiatrist -- could have led him to a breakdown.

"They have very large patient loads more and more veterans are coming back with psychiatric illnesses," said Afkhami, who works with the military as a lecturer in the Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace program. "Out of all the medical doctors, psychiatrists are bearing the brunt of war casualties."

Was Being a Military Psychiatrist Too Much?

Afkhami guessed that adding the stress of hearing war stories from returned soldiers "to the mix of someone who has a feeling of being persecuted in the military because of his background -- whether he had a real perception or a false one -- and this imminent deployment," might be enough to turn someone with a psychiatric problem into a murder.

Ragan knows all too well that military psychiatrists can be under a lot of pressure and hear some horrible things. As a military psychiatrist at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina he and two other colleagues were assigned to 43,000 people.

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