Cousin of Fort Hood Shooter Speaks Out Against Violent Extremism

PHOTO: ABCs Bob Woodruff interviews Nader Hasan, cousin of the Fort Hood shooter.PlayABC News
WATCH Interview with Nader Hasan

Nearly two years after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, Nader Hasan still does not know what drove his cousin, former Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, to commit the mass shooting at Fort Hood in Nov. 2009.

That day forever changed the families of the 13 killed, as well as his own.

"We lost our cousin to terrorists. Or at least terrorist rhetoric," Nader Hasan said. "We really don't know what happened. We're still trying to figure that out. It's still a process."

"I mean from the beginning, I think the shock, the pause -- you're just unable to believe," Nader Hasan said. "You still have to keep asking yourself and pinching yourself, is this really what happened?"

On a sunny afternoon on Nov. 5, 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist based at Fort Hood, opened fired on colleagues who were preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 100 shots fired in 10 minutes.

Nader Hasan said when he first heard of the shooting, he thought his cousin was a victim, only to learn later that he was the lone gunman.

"We had no idea he was the shooter until getting home and the news just started to play out," Nader Hasan said. "As I'm on the phone I'm staring at the TV and now seeing some of these images come up."

He said the man accused of killing 12 soldiers and one civilian that day does not resemble the cousin he grew up with in suburban Virginia, where they were born and raised in a close-knit extended family. Nader and Nidal's mothers were sisters, who both immigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East.

"I think more than anything, I was just talking to myself saying, wait, this can't be him," Hasan said. "He is the last person any of us would have thought. He was never violent ever. He wouldn't kill a bug in the house."

The rampage has left Hasan's family with questions about what changed Nidal Hasan into a killer.

"It's almost two years now since my cousin, I believe, was … stolen by some psychotic combination of whatever might have happened, but we lost him," Nader Hasan said. "The Nidal that we knew before Fort Hood is not the Nidal from Fort Hood forward."

"People would like to say it's terrorism. People would like to say it's just this Muslim," Nader Hasan said. "And I tell you, the worst thing he did was relate Islam to his act, his horrific act. I mean it's unthinkable."

Hasan's family has remained virtually silent since the days immediately following the shooting.

But now, Nader Hasan is coming forward to launch the Nawal Foundation, an organization named for his mother that he hopes can give voice to moderate Muslims, and be a force for greater action to oppose "any violence in the name of Islam," and to ensure a "patriotic commitment to the protection of America."

A new Pew Research Center poll released last week showed that nearly half of Muslim Americans do not believe Muslim leaders in the U.S. have done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.

That sentiment, in part, is why Hasan's family has chosen to come forward to speak directly against violence and extremism, saying "the silence is deafening from the moderate voice."

"Our moderate voice needs to speak now," Hasan says. "No violence in the name of our religion ever."

'Perfect American Dream'

Nader Hasan said he and his cousin Nidal had a typical American upbringing in suburban Virginia, from birthday parties to playing sports to Santa at Christmas.

Nader and Nidal did not speak Arabic, and were not very religious growing up.

"Perfect American dream, growing up, being American, being a kid," Nader Hasan said.

Nidal Hasan joined the Army out of high school, and only turned to religion following the death of his mother in 2001. Nader's mom promised her sister she would care for her sons after she died.

"That was his mom's wish. Know God," Nader Hasan said. "And so he started praying more and becoming more pious… And then all of a sudden, four months later, September 11th happens."

"Now that you might see that as your first challenge as to how much do you believe in your faith," Nader Hasan added. "But who knows what was going on in his head."

Later as an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan was assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center to counsel returning combat soldiers.

His family said their traumatic stories deeply affected him. And as he became more religious and isolated from his family, he began to question the war on terror as a war on his faith – dreading his own deployment.

He even gave a PowerPoint presentation to military colleagues which seemed to solidify his evolution of beliefs, writing on one slide, "It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims."

"There was this issue of choosing God and country," Nader Hasan said. "And I think that's where his sickness really started to morph."

But Nader Hasan said he is not certain whether his cousin was directly influenced by al Qaeda to commit murder against his fellow soldiers, despite reported email exchanges between Nidal Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda terrorist leader based in Yemen.

While a U.S. Senate investigation later called Nidal Hasan a "ticking time bomb," Nader Hasan said there were few immediate signs that his cousin was a threat. But if there had been, he would have immediately reported him.

"Absolutely. Without question. Without question," Hasan said of whether he would have turned Nidal in to authorities. "That's why we had the FBI come to our house right away" after the shooting. "If there was anybody else out there that we could help, we were happy to."

Nidal Hasan was shot three times during the shooting rampage and is now paralyzed from the chest down. He has since been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder – and could face the death penalty if convicted. His trial is set to begin in March 2012.

Nader Hasan does not know whether his cousin will pursue a temporary insanity defense, and said he leaves the final verdict up to the military jury.

"He committed a crime. I don't think there's any question as to who the shooter was. And the question's still why," Hasan said. "He'll get his day in court, and he'll be tried by a jury of his peers and they'll make the ultimate determination."

Some of the Fort Hood families who attended Nidal Hasan's preliminary hearings last year said he showed no signs of remorse. Nader Hasan said he hopes that remorse will come, and that the families impacted have "been in our prayers."

"God bless you. God bless the ones you lost that have been harmed," Nader said to the Fort Hood family members. "And God bless our country to get through this."

"Our family wishes our cousin would come back and accept responsibility and show remorse and try to turn this into a positive thing," Hasan added.

Nader Hasan is hoping the work of his new foundation can be a positive step to spreading a message of non-violence, and his belief that Muslim Americans can be both devoutly Muslim and defiantly patriotic.

"I think the terrorists have really an effective poison that they're putting out there… The terrorists are trying to make it an issue of false choice of choosing God over country," Hasan said. "You can be fully Muslim, you can be fully American and there's no conflict."