Even as police are investigating if a 22-year-old military man arrested near the Pentagon in suspicious circumstances belonged to any jihadi network or was acting alone, the focus has turned to the old debate of Muslim personnel’s role in the US military.
Yonathan Melaku, a Lance Corporal Marine Corps reservist, was arrested in the wee hours of Friday at Arlington Cemetery near the Pentagon. It was reported that a bag recovered from his car contained ammonium nitrate, ammunition and al Qaeda literature. Later tests established that the material found on him were not explosive.
However, police are investigating if Melaku has any connection with the jihadists who posted a list of top Us targets to be attacked as the 9/11 anniversary is approaching.
Melaku had been charged with four counts of grand larceny last month after he was arrested for breaking into 27 cars in Leesburg, and stealing valuables.
Melaku, an Ethiopian-American, joined the Marine Corps Reserve in September 2007. He had won the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve medal.
Continue Reading Below
According to the police it's an 'unfolding case.' However, the incident has turned the spotlight on the role of Muslims in the US military.
The 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed it, presented the US military with a unique problem surrounding military personnel belonging to the Muslim faith.
The military decided to recruit more Muslims, hoping it will contribute to more cultural diversity and lessen prejudices against serving Muslim Americans.
However, the specter of Muslim soldiers being won over by terror ideologies remained a live threat.
And soon the situation became more complex, with the US entering into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Muslim soldiers in the US military were severely torn between the sense of national duty and the fear of killing innocent fellow Muslims.
And then, the Fort Hood shooting exasperated the tensions. The fear of Muslim military personnel crossing over to enemy ranks gained slow momentum, increasing the latent tensions.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood shooting, is a case in point. The military could not establish if the mass killing was an act of terrorism while some politicians demanded a probe into the various angles of the crime.
The New York Times had reported that a look into Major Hasan’s life in the military gave insights into the struggles and frustrations felt by other Muslims in the services. He was disillusioned with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he perceived to be part of a war on Islam, according to interviews with friends and relatives, the report said.
It was revealed later that Maj. Hasan shouted 'Allahu Akbar!' (God is greatest) before opening fire on soldiers at Fort Hood.
Another shocking incident took place in 2003 when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two soldiers and wounded 14 when he threw a grenade into a tent. Sgt. Akbar, a convert to Islam, was sentenced to death. It emerged that he believed the U.S. military was killing innocent Muslim civilians.
The US military leadership is obviously caught in a tough bargain. As the NYT puts it, the service of Muslim-Americans is more necessary and more complicated than ever before.