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Fri 6 Nov 2009 12:57 PM

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Gunman kills 12 at US army base, suspect alive

Army psychiatrist opens fire with two handguns at the Fort Hood Army post.

An Army psychiatrist opened fire with two handguns at the Fort Hood Army post on Thursday, killing 12 and wounding 31 others, Army officials said, adding the suspect was shot several times but survived.

Authorities identified the suspected gunman as Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who had treated soldiers wounded in foreign wars preparing for foreign deployment at the post.

"Our investigation is ongoing but preliminary reports indicate that there was a single shooter," Lieutenant-General Robert Cone, Fort Hood's commanding officer, told a news conference. "The shooter is not dead but in custody in stable condition."

Cone said the suspect had been shot multiple times. He had previously said the suspect was killed by police officers during the attack at the biggest military facility in the world.

"He's not currently speaking to investigators," Cone said of Hasan. Pressed on the suspect's condition, he said, "I would say his death is not imminent."

Asked if the shootings were a terrorist act, Cone said, "I couldn't rule that out but ... the evidence does not suggest that."

The Army said the gunman opened fire at about 2:30 p.m. EST at the Soldiers Readiness Processing Center, a group of buildings where soldiers were getting medical check-ups before leaving for overseas deployments.

Cone said the gunman had two weapons, one of them a semi-automatic. "There is no indication that they were military weapons," he said.

It was one of the worst killing sprees ever reported on a U.S. military base. In May, a U.S. soldier at a base in Baghdad shot and killed five fellow soldiers.

Cone said a college graduation ceremony for more than 100 soldiers was being held in an auditorium about 50 yards (meters) away when the shooting started.

"Thanks to the quick reaction of several soldiers, they were able to close off the doors to that auditorium where there were some 600 people inside," Cone said.

"As horrible as this was, I think it could have been much worse," Cone said.

Cone said soldiers as a rule do not carry weapons on the base. Military police and security guards are armed.

A cousin of the suspected shooter, Nader Hasan, told Fox News that he had been ordered to serve a term in Iraq and had been resisting such a deployment.

Hasan said his cousin was a U.S.-born Muslim who had joined the military from high school. He had served as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which treats many badly wounded troops.

"He was a psychiatrist at Walter Reed dealing with the people coming back and ... trying to help them with their trauma," he said.

He said his cousin had been transferred to Fort Hood in April months ago and was very reluctant to be deployed to Iraq. "We've known over the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare," he said.

The incident raised new questions about the toll that six years of continuous fighting in Iraq and nearly eight years of fighting in Afghanistan have taken on the U.S. military and on individual soldiers, many of whom have been on several combat tours.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington, called the event a "horrific outburst of violence" and promised "answers to every single question about this horrible incident."

Fort Hood is home to about 50,000 troops, although Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said only about 35,000 were on base at the time. The fort, established in 1942, stretches across 339 square miles (878 square km) in central Texas and is the state's largest single employer.

Base personnel have accounted for more suicides than any other Army post since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with 75 tallied through July of this year. Nine of those occurred in 2009, counting two in overseas war zones.

A former FBI criminal profiler highlighted the irony of the suspected gunman's reported expertise as a psychiatrist specializing in traumatic stress, which often affects combat soldiers.

"It may be that he succumbed to that which he was supposed to heal," Clint Van Zandt said on MSNBC.

Fort Hood is halfway between Austin and Waco, about 60 miles from each city. Nearby Killeen was the site of one of the worst U.S. shooting rampages when a gunman drove his truck into a Luby's cafeteria in 1991 and shot 23 people to death and wounded 20 others before killing himself. (Reuters)

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