The U.S. Defense Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff plan to discuss an examination of the Muslim presence in the U.S. military and the threat of Al Qaida influence. They said Congress was pressing for such a review in wake of the Nov. 5 killing of 13 U.S. troops by a Muslim officer.
“We have to go back and look at ourselves and ask ourselves the hard questions,” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said. “Are we doing the right things? We will learn from this.”
The review will focus on the exact number of Muslims in the U.S. military, which has encouraged such enrollment.
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The U.S. Defense Department reported 3,409 Muslims on active military duty as of April 2008, but officials said the number could be at least three times higher.
“We believe there are many more Muslims who, when recruited, did not list their religion,” an official said. “Some of these people simply wanted to avoid harassment; others might have had a sinister agenda.”
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, born in the United States and alleged to have killed 13 soldiers in the army base at Fort Hood, Texas, did not identify himself as a Muslim when he enlisted.
Mr. Hasan was, however, recruited as part of a U.S. military drive to reach out to the Muslim community. Over the last decade, the military has intensified its recruitment of Arabic-, Farsi- and Pashtun-speaking soldiers for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Pentagon has been receiving reports of Muslim soldiers who expressed opposition to the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. They said the opposition was encouraged by Islamic clerics as well as Muslim officers such as Mr. Hasan, who warned Muslims against harming co-religionists.
In 2003, U.S. Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, said to have opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, killed two officers and injured 14 others in a grenade attack. Mr. Akbar, a convert to Islam, was sentenced to death.
The U.S. military has sought to shield Muslims from retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq. In many cases, they said, Muslim soldiers were ordered to use fake family names to prevent reprisals against their families abroad.
Some in Congress have called for clear guidelines on allowing soldiers to express political views in the military. They said Mr. Hasan’s pro-jihad views were tolerated by officers concerned over charges of discrimination.
“I want to say very quickly we don’t know enough to say now, but there are very, very strong warning signs here that Mr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” Sen. Joseph Liberman, a Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said.
Senator Lieberman said his committee would investigate the Hasan shooting, particularly the motive for the attack. He said a focus would be whether the U.S. Army ignored warning signs that Mr. Hasan was heading for an attack.
Mr. Hasan underwent an investigation in April on suspicion that he had adopted Al Qaida doctrine of holy war against the West. They said Mr. Hasan was suspected of trying to contact Al Qaida via the Internet.
“I am intending to begin a congressional investigation of my homeland security committee into what were the motives of Mr. Hasan in carrying out this brutal mass murder and to ask whether the Army missed warning signs that should have led them to essentially discharge him,” Mr. Lieberman said. “If Mr. Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance. He should have been gone.”
David Bedein can be reached at: email@example.com