By Nomaan Merchant and Paul J. Weber Associated Press
FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army psychiatrist accused in the deadliest mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation planned to “kill as many soldiers as he could” and tried to clear the area of civilians, a military prosecutor said Tuesday during the opening day of the trial at Fort Hood.
Col. Steve Henricks told jurors that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan deliberately targeted fellow soldiers as he walked through and opened fire inside a building where service members were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009.
Henricks described how Hasan entered the building as a civilian data clerk stood at entrance station and told her she was needed elsewhere in the building because a supervisor looking for her. The prosecutor said the clerk thought that was odd but went anyway, then Hasan “
“He then yelled ‘Allahu akbar!’ and opened fire on unarmed, unsuspecting and defenseless soldiers,” Henricks told the jury during his opening statement.
When Hasan left the building, a civilian approached him and asked what was going on. Hasan told him not to worry about it, and the civilian “walks away from the encounter unscathed,” the prosecutor said. Hasan allegedly told another civilian that there was a training exercise going on and he was carrying a paintball gun.
Hasan only shot at one civilian who tried to stop him, Henricks said.
Henricks also said Hasan picked the date of the attack — Nov. 5, 2009 — for a specific reason, though he didn’t immediately reveal details.
Hasan — who is representing himself at the court-martial — is charged with numerous counts of murder and attempted murder for the attack that left 13 people dead.
He had wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in “defense of others,” namely members of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, but the judge denied that strategy. His defense strategy during the trial remains unclear, but over the next several weeks, he is expected to deliver an opening statement, to question witnesses and possibly present his own evidence.
The trial seems likely to unfold as a faceoff between the gunman and his victims. On the witness stand will be many of the more than 30 people who were wounded, plus dozens of others who were inside the post’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center. They’ve also said they saw Hasan shout “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — and opened fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.
The government has said that Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, had sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Hasan has never denied carrying out the attack, and the facts of the case are mostly settled. But questions abound about how the trial will play out. How will Hasan question his victims? How will victims respond? How will his health hold up?
The defendant, who was shot in the back by officers responding to the attack, is now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. He requires 15- to 20-minute stretching breaks about every four hours, and he has to lift himself off his wheelchair for about a minute every half hour to avoid developing sores.
Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was wounded, is expected to testify. He said he looked forward to seeing Hasan, in a way.
“I’m not going to dread anything. That’s a sign of fear,” Lunsford said. “That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again.”
But Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning said he dreaded the expected confrontation.
“I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,” said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. “I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.”
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, told jurors to prepare for a trial that could last several months.
On Tuesday, guards stood watch with long assault rifles outside the courthouse. A long row of shipping freight containers, stacked three high, created a fence around the building, which was almost entirely hidden by 15-foot-tall stacks of heavy, shock-absorbing barriers that extend to the roofline.
John Galligan, Hasan’s former lead attorney, said Monday that he still keeps in touch with Hasan but wasn’t sure what he would say Tuesday, if anything.
Hasan has indicated recently that he still wants his views to be heard. He has released statements to media outlets about his views on the Islamic legal code known as Sharia and how it conflicts with American democracy.
If he is convicted and sentenced to death, it will most likely be decades before he makes it to the death chamber, if at all. The military has not executed an active-duty soldier since 1961. Five men are on the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but none is close to an execution date.