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Fort Hood shooter faces death penalty as trial begins
Opening statements begin Tuesday in the trial of US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who confessed to killing 13 people and wounding 32 in a November 2009 shooting spree at the Fort Hood base in Texas. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted.
Nearly four years after opening fire on fellow soldiers in the deadliest such incident on a US military base, an army psychiatrist is set to confront his victims in court Tuesday.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who has previously admitted to killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in the November 2009 massacre at Fort Hood in Texas, faces the death penalty if convicted.
The attack jolted the US military and prompted calls for stronger safeguards against possible internal security threats and "homegrown" terror attacks.
Since military law will not allow him to plead guilty to a capital offense, Hasan will be given the opportunity to try to convince a jury of 13 officers that he does not deserve death for his actions.
Having sacked his lawyers, Hasan will defend himself at the trial, which is set to begin with opening statements on Tuesday.
"It could be the opening salvo for him to talk about jihad and to tell the jury he is justified in what he did," said Jeff Addicott, a terrorism law expert from St. Mary's University.
Military judge Colonel Tara Osborn is tasked with ensuring that Hasan does not use the high-profile trial as a platform to espouse extreme views and that he treats witnesses -- who will include his victims -- with respect.
Shawn Manning, a mental health specialist in the same unit as Hasan who was shot six times, said he was dreading the prospect of being cross-examined by his former colleague.
"A guy who tried to murder you and your friends, and you have to be cordial and nice, it is going to be difficult," Manning told AFP.
"In a lot of ways, I hope he doesn't ask me any questions, but I've prepared myself."
Manning is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit urging the military to reclassify the shooting as "terrorism" instead of the current designation of "workplace violence," which offers less compensation to victims.
Osborn has barred prosecutors from mentioning terrorism as a motive and prohibited Hasan from using a "defense of others" strategy to justify his actions.
Hasan, 42, was set to deploy to Afghanistan weeks after the attack. He has said that he shot soldiers to protect his fellow Muslims from an "illegal" war.
Born in the eastern state of Virginia to Palestinian parents, Hasan joined the Army in 1995.
It was during a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2003 to 2006 that Hasan first exhibited signs of radical Islamic views, according to an FBI report entitled "A Ticking Time Bomb."
Hasan attended a mosque where radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki -- a key figure in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen -- worked in 2001.
He exchanged emails with Awlaki in the months leading up to the shooting in which he questioned the morality of killing soldiers if they intended to attack Muslims. Awlaki later called Hasan a hero.
Hasan has managed to delay the trial with various legal manuevers and a lengthy battle over whether he could violate military rules by wearing a beard.
Osborn has estimated the trial could last anywhere between one and four months.
More than 250 witnesses are set to testify against Hasan, including family members of each of the 13 killed in the shooting and the 32 soldiers and civilians who were wounded.
Hasan has said he only intends to call two witnesses in his defense.