'Islam not responsible' for Fort Hood massacre: US imam
Islam is "not responsible" for the bloodbath at an army base in Texas where Muslim-American army Major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly gunned down 13 people, the prayer leader at the mosque where the officer regularly worshipped said Friday.
"We offer our condolences and prayers to the families that have a person who died," said Imam Mohammed Abdullahi over loud-speakers that carried the weekly Muslim prayer to several hundred worshippers gathered at the mosque.
"Islam is not responsible," he stressed.
Many of the worshippers who had come to the mosque in this suburb of Washington knew Hasan or had seen him at Friday prayer, which he attended regularly when he lived in the Washington area.
To them, the news that he had allegedly opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon and a handgun in a crowded troop processing center on the sprawling Fort Hood base in Texas, mowing down 13 people and wounding 30 others, came as a shock.
"Islam doesn't command anybody to do something like that," said Shaikh Khamis, who has prayed at the Silver Spring Muslim Community Center mosque for 11 years.
"It's very sad, a big tragedy for everybody," said another worshipper, Ibrahim Gayi.
"We pray for everybody, all Americans, not only Muslims," he said.
Asif Qadri, head of the medical clinic at the Muslim Community Center, described Hasan, an army major, as "very gentlemanly.
"He was sociable, likeable. We had regular, casual conversation -- he didn't manifest any particular view either way," Qadri said.
"When I saw him on television, I couldn't believe my eyes," he added.
It was "unbelievable", said Qadri, that the man who news reports said went on a deadly rampage Thursday was the soft-spoken psychiatrist who prayed at the mosque nearly every week.
The son of Palestinian immigrants, Hasan was born and raised in Virginia, the state that borders Maryland to the west, and after high school, went against his parents' wishes and enlisted in the military, which put him through college and medical school.
He spent nearly all his professional life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northwest Washington, DC working as a psychiatrist before shipping out this year to Fort Hood, from where he was reportedly due to deploy to Afghanistan.
Silver Spring is just blocks from the Walter Reed facility and has been home to the Muslim Community Center and its busy mosque for 33 years.
"Everybody knows this is not a place for fanatics," said Qadri. "We don't encourage that sort of thing."
Imam Abdullahi recalled seeing Hasan at Friday prayer for the last time in June, and Akhtar Khan, a worshipper at the mosque, described the army psychiatrist as "a peaceful person, very quiet.
"He would just come and pray," he said as worshippers at the mosque struggled to understand why Hasan, a specialist in combat stress, snapped and opened fire in a troop processing center in Fort Hood that was packed with soldiers preparing to deploy overseas.
"It's got to be something mental," said Gayi.
"These guys who go and come back from war, they need help," he said.