Army chief fears backlash for Muslim U.S. soldiers

WASHINGTON Sun Nov 8, 2009 11:33am EST

Army Chief of Staff General George Casey addresses the media at the Fort Hood Army Post in Fort Hood, Texas November 6, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Army Chief of Staff General George Casey addresses the media at the Fort Hood Army Post in Fort Hood, Texas November 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army's top general expressed concern on Sunday that last week's mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas, blamed on a Muslim Army officer, could fuel a backlash in the military against Muslim troops.

General George Casey, U.S. Army chief of staff, cautioned against jumping to conclusions about whether religious beliefs motivated the accused gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim born in the United States of immigrant parents.

"I'm concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And I've asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that," Casey told CNN's "State of the Union."

There are about 3,000 Muslims on active duty military service or in the National Guard or reserve forces, Casey said. They remain a small minority within the U.S. military.

A Fort Hood official has said Hasan yelled "Allahu Akbar" -- Arabic for "God is Greatest" -- just before the shooting in which 13 people were killed and 30 wounded. The 39-year-old U.S. Army psychiatrist was shot four times by police. He was hospitalized but no longer needed a ventilator to breathe.

Relatives have said Hasan wanted to leave the Army to avoid being deployed to Afghanistan and that he had faced harassment by fellow soldiers because of his religion.

Casey was not specific about the type of backlash he feared against Muslims in the military, or who might lead a backlash.

The shootings at the sprawling Army base marked the latest blow to the U.S. military, which has been under enormous strain this decade as troops served repeated long combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars also have raised hostility toward the United States among many Muslims worldwide.

"Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse," Casey added on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Asked whether Muslims in the U.S. Army are more conflicted than other soldiers in fighting wars in Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, Casey said: "I think that's something that we have to look at on an individual basis."

"But," he added, "I think we as an Army have to be broad enough to bring in people from all walks of life."

Casey declined to say what the Army knew about Hasan's behavior before Thursday's rampage, saying those questions will be addressed by investigators looking into the crime.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; editing by Chris Wilson)

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