HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. military tribunal meets on Tuesday to decide if a Muslim Army major will stand trial for a killing spree at a Texas base last year that raised concern over the threat of “home grown” terrorist attacks.
The accused, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was expected to appear at his hearing in a wheelchair. He was left paralyzed by bullet wounds inflicted during the November 5, 2009, shooting at the Fort Hood Army base that killed 13 people.
The so-called Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing to determine if Hasan’s case should be tried. Legal experts expect the case to proceed, and Hasan, a 40-year-old Army psychiatrist, could face the death penalty.
In the rampage at the world’s biggest military facility, witnesses said they heard Hasan shout “Allahu Akbar” -- Arabic for “God is Greatest” -- just before opening fire on a group of soldiers preparing for health checks before being deployed.
Fort Hood is a major deployment point for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S. officials said Hasan had exchanged e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, an anti-American al Qaeda figure based in Yemen.
There have been a number of recent cases of so-called “home-grown terrorism” in which U.S.-born individuals mounted attacks on U.S. soil.
Since the September 11 2001 attacks using hijacked planes in Washington and New York, U.S. security officials have focussed on attacks from Al Qaeda that originate overseas, said Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute.
“In fact, the growing threat that we feel exists is actually here in the United States,” Kaniewski said.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, was given a life sentence after attempting to set off a car bomb in New York’s busy Times Square on May 1.
Col. James Pohl, the presiding officer in Hasan’s hearing, has said he will call as witnesses the 32 people wounded during the shooting. The proceeding, which is open to the media, could last over a month.
Hasan’s lawyer, retired Col. John Galligan, has declined to say whether Hasan will plead insanity in his defence, and has advised his client against submitting to a mental health exam.
Military prosecutors could seek the death penalty, but it was unclear whether that determination would be made during the hearing or the court martial that could follow.
Military executions are rare in the United States.
The last person executed by the U.S. military was Army Private John Bennett, who was hanged in 1961 after being convicted of rape and attempted murder, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.
“Given the circumstances here and the number of fatalities, I think as capital cases go this is not that challenging,” said Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; editing by Mary Milliken and David Storey