National Muslim organizations are attempting to distance themselves from Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, the officer accused in the shootings Thursday at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 were killed and dozens wounded.
They are also urging Muslims to protect themselves from a backlash, and asking law enforcement authorities to step up security outside mosques, community centers and schools.
Soldiers who witnessed the shootings say Hassan, identified in media reports as the Muslim son of Palestinian immigrants, shouted "Allahu Akbar" before opening fire, base commander Lt. Gen. Robert Cone said Friday. The phrase is Arabic for "God is great."
Hassan, an Army psychiatrist, reportedly was critical of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had been harassed by fellow soldiers for being a Muslim, according to media reports.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, condemned what he called a "cowardly attack."
"Right now, we call on all Americans to assist those who are responding to this atrocity," Awad told reporters in Washington late Thursday. "We must ensure that the wounded are treated and the families of those who were murdered have an opportunity to mourn.
"No political or religious ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted our nation's all-volunteer army that includes thousands of Muslims in all services. We again offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and sincere condolences for the families of those killed or injured."
Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, issued a similar statement."This attack is absolutely deplorable," she said. "ADC has been consistent and on record in condemning any attacks aimed at innocents, no matter who the victims or the perpetrators may be. Such violence is morally reprehensible and has nothing to do with any religion, race, ethnicity, or national origin. ADC urges the FBI and law enforcement agencies to make every effort to see that justice is served."
"ADC also calls upon law enforcement agencies to provide immediate protection for all Mosques, community centers, schools, and any locations that may be identified or misidentified with being Arab, Muslim, South Asian or Sikh as a clear backlash has already started. The actions of a few should not invite a backlash on innocent members of any community and we urge law enforcement and others to keep that in mind."
Awad, of CAIR, urged calm.
"The motive of the attacker is not yet known. We urge all Americans to remain calm in reaction to this tragic event and to demonstrate once again what is best about America ¬- our nation's ability to remain unified even in times of crisis. We urge national political and religious leaders and media professionals to set a tone of calm and unity.
"Unfortunately, based on past experience, we also urge American Muslims, and those who may be perceived to be Muslim, to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, their families and their religious institutions from possible backlash.