When Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino on December 2, the first response of the White House was to invoke “workplace violence.” Two days later, against pressure from the Justice Department, the FBI declared the attack a case of terrorism. Now another 2015 terrorist attack is being properly labeled, and the victims at last gaining recognition.
On July 16, Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, attacked a Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The attacker fired 35-40 shots from an AK-47, killing five members of the U.S. military: Carson Holmquist, Randall Smith, Thomas Sullivan, Squire Wells, and David Wyatt, 37. Abdulazeez also wounded Marine recruiter Demonte Cheely and police sergeant Dennis Pedigo.
Police killed Abdulazeez, who also deployed a 9mm handgun and attacked a second recruiting station. Despite the profile of the shooter, the nature of the target, and the multiple fatalities, federal authorities declined to call the attack terrorism. That changed on December 16, two weeks after the San Bernardino attacks.
FBI Director James Comey said the Chattanooga attacks were “inspired and motivated by foreign terrorist propaganda.” Likewise, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that, following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that the Chattanooga attack was “inspired by a foreign terrorist group” not named but considered to be ISIS. That cleared the way for awarding of the Purple Heart to the victims, including the injured Marine. In Chattanooga the delay was four months. With the Fort Hood victims it was a matter of years.
On November 5, 2009, at Ford Hood, Texas, U.S. soldiers were getting their final medical checkups before deploying to Afghanistan. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who described himself as a “Soldier of Allah,” began gunning down the soldiers. His victims, all unarmed, included Francheska Velez, a 21-year-old private from Chicago who pleaded for the life of her unborn child. The Muslim major killed two other women that day along with 10 men, more than twice as many victims as the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Hasan also wounded 33 others, including Sergeant Alonzo Lunsford, who played dead then fled the building.
Major Hasan chased down Lunsford, an African-American, and shot him seven times, including one bullet in the back. Firing a high-capacity handgun fitted with laser sights, Major Hasan shot Sergeant Shawn Manning in the chest and pumped four rounds into Sgt. Patrick Zeigler. Hasan would have killed and wounded more if civilian police officer Kimberley Munley had not wounded the assailant, who yelled “Allahu akbar,” as he killed.
The Obama administration’s proclamation of this murder spree as a case of “workplace violence” rendered victims ineligible for medals and other benefits related to combat.
Hasan remained in the Army, retained his rank of major, and the Army continued to pay his full salary. The Army also took care of the paralyzing injuries Hasan sustained, but Alonzo Lunsford told reporters the army refused to cover an operation to remove a bullet still in his body, and docked his pay when he was undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. “We don’t get passes the way Major Hasan got passes,” Lunsford told the New York Times. “Each one of us has gotten a raw deal somewhere down the line.”
More than five years later, and only under pressure from legislators, the Army declared that the Ford Hood attack was not workplace violence but international terrorism. In April, the victims finally received their honors at a Fort Hood ceremony the President of the United States did not attend. Kimberly Munley, the civilian policewoman who stopped the attack by shooting Nidal Hasan, received a Defense of Freedom Medal.
U.S. officials knew Hasan was communicating with terrorists abroad but did nothing to stop him. Surveillance also failed in the Chattanooga attack, which came without warning. The December 2 San Bernardino terrorist attack signaled a failure of screening. Tashfeen Malik, who entered the United States on a K-1 visa, passed three background checks, none of which uncovered her support for violent jihad on social media.
The police officers who killed Farook and Malik in a gun battle, like the cops who took down Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, have yet to be formally recognized or given awards. Nidal Hasan, meanwhile, was sentenced to death in 2013 but the sentence has yet to be carried out. Hasan’s execution would require approval by the president, but the fate of the terrorist mass murderer has not become an issue in the current presidential campaign.
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