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'Hell broke loose,' witness says of 2009 Fort Hood massacre

Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated
Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated

By Eric M. Johnson and Lisa Maria Garza

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. Army soldiers testifying in the court-martial of Major Nidal Hasan for the 2009 shooting spree that killed 13 and wounded 31 at Fort Hood, Texas, on Monday described carnage and confusion usually reserved for live combat.

Hasan, 42, has admitted to shooting his fellow soldiers, saying he switched sides in what he called a U.S. war on Islam, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

"I could hear people screaming, brass hitting the ground. I could smell the smoke," testified retired Lieutenant Colonel Randy Royer, a major at the time who was shot in the leg and arm.

"I could see all the blood, the crumpled uniforms ... shell casings. It was just carnage," said Royer, who used a cane to steady himself in court.

More than 50 witnesses have taken the stand to describe the attack inside a medical facility at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, days before Hasan, an Army psychiatrist and U.S.-born Muslim, was due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

"Hell broke loose," said Staff Sergeant Christopher Burgess, who described gunfire following him every time he and a group of people moved, trying to escape the building.

Many of the witness have said they at first believed the shooting was a training exercise because soldiers are normally prohibited from carrying weapons on base.

Several quoted Hasan as screaming "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest" in Arabic) upon spraying gunfire with his laser-sighted handgun. Military police eventually shot Hasan, who was paralyzed from the waist down and attends court in a wheelchair.

Shemeka Hairston, a nurse, said she heard what sounded like firecrackers and saw a cloud of smoke. She called the 911 emergency line, and an operator advised her to "stay low."

"It sounded like the gunfire was getting closer," said Hairston, who wept on the stand and could be heard wailing upon leaving the courtroom.

As audio of Hairston's 911 call played, Hasan stared ahead at the screen displaying the transcript of the call, showing no emotion on his face. Hasan, who acts as his own lawyer, refrained from cross-examining any witnesses.

Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges against Hasan, who could be sentenced to death if all 13 officers on the jury find him guilty of premeditated murder. The U.S. military has not executed a service member since 1961.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Mohammad Zargham)

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