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Army base shooter conscious and talking, hospital says

Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist blamed for killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at a Texas Army base, has emerged from a coma and is talking to medical staff, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.

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AFP - Investigators probing a massacre at a US army base that left 13 dead won a boost Monday as the suspected shooter regained consciousness amid hopes he would reveal the motive for the attack.

A round-the-clock inquiry at the Fort Hood base in Texas has so far failed to pin down the reasons for Thursday's shooting, which also left 30 wounded and has been blamed on army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan.

Hasan, 39, a devout Muslim, was shot and wounded by a female civilian police who halted his deadly gunfire, and had been in critical condition and on a ventilator for much of the time since.

So far investigators believe Hasan acted alone, but amid reports Monday that he may have had links to an American-born imam who has backed Al-Qaeda, new questions arose as to whether the shooting could have been a terror attack.

"He is talking. He is conversing with the medical staff," a spokeswoman for the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, told AFP.

But she refused to say whether Hasan -- the only one who can provide any real clues about the attack and who is said to have been under tremendous stress due to his job counseling war-scarred soldiers -- had already been interviewed by army investigators.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are due to travel to Fort Hood Tuesday for a poignant memorial service to honor those killed, as a shocked nation still struggles to understand why the attack happened.

The Washington Post reported Monday that federal investigators were examining possible links between Hasan and Anwar al-Aulaqi, who was the spiritual leader of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.

Hasan had attended the mosque in 2001, the daily said.

The imam was said to have crossed paths with Al-Qaeda associates including two September 11 hijackers, and is now believed to have become a supporter of the terror network which carried out the 2001 attack, the paper said, citing an unnamed senior US official.

Aulaqi left the United States in 2002 and settled in Yemen, where he lectured on Al-Qaeda strategies.

According to The Post, he has since been identified as a spiritual advisor to two of the  9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

However, it was not clear whether Hasan established a personal relationship with the preacher during his 2001 visits to the mosque or only knew him through his lectures on the Internet, the paper noted.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who chairs the Senate's Homeland Security committee, has said he would launch a probe into whether the army missed any warning signs.

"There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act," he told Fox News on Sunday.

Army investigators has also called for witnesses to come forward, asking for clothes or other personal effects that may contain gunshot residue to help put together a ballistic portrait of Thursday's events.

From their work, and the testimony of those who met Hasan, a picture has emerged of a deeply religious American of Palestinian descent, who opposed his country's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hasan was to be deployed to Afghanistan later this month, army officials said, as the top US army chief of staff General George Casey warned about rushing to any conclusions.

It has been suggested that US-born Hasan carried out the shootings as revenge for persecution about his Islamic faith at the hands of his comrades.

"I worry that the speculation could cause something that we don't want to see happen," Casey said on Sunday.

An initial search of Hasan's computer revealed no direct exchanges with known extremists, but earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation learned of Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan that expressed support for suicide bombings.

The New York Times reported Monday that on the day of the attack, Hasan attended 6:00 am prayers at a mosque near Fort Hood.

Afterward, he said goodbye to his friends there and asked forgiveness from one man for any past offenses, the paper said.

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