For anyone who paid attention to the news last year, the words shouted by the gunman responsible for a rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 32 at Food Hood, Texas, come as no surprise.
In widespread news accounts, witnesses reported that Maj. Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim, shouted the Arabic phrase for "God is great!" before opening fire.
Those words are making it into the headlines again this week as dozens of survivors begin testifying at a hearing to determine if Hasan will be tried at court-martial. The hearing is expected to last several weeks.
While the words are not a surprise, they are relevant to news accounts of witness testimony.
Take the Los Angeles Times' lede to the first day of coverage, for example:
Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas -- Just after lunch on Nov. 5, an Army psychiatrist inside the medical processing center at Ft. Hood did something that Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, the non-commissioned officer in charge at the center that day, said mystified him.
He said Maj. Nidal Hasan, the psychiatrist, suddenly stood up, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great" -- and reached under his uniform top.
"I was wondering why he would say 'Allahu Akhbar,' " Lunsford recalled Wednesday at a hearing for Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 others that day.
The Dallas Morning News gave a similar account:
FORT HOOD, Texas -- The pop-pop-pop of gunfire, groans of a dying soldier and wailing from terrified survivors riveted a military courtroom Wednesday as Army prosecutors played a 911 tape of last November's massacre at a soldier-readiness center.
Eight witnesses gave graphic descriptions of the chaos unleashed when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire in the worst attack ever on an American military installation. Several recalled hearing a shout of "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," just before the melee began.
"I looked at [Hasan] and was wondering, 'Why would he say Allahu akbar?' " testified the first prosecution witness, Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford. Within seconds, the sergeant added, Hasan pulled a pistol from his combat uniform and began shooting.
Likewise, CNN's report referenced the Arabic words and their meaning.
That's all pretty straightforward, right?
But then I read the Washington Post's version of the testimony:
"I was wondering why he would say 'Allahu Akbar,' " testified Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who said he ducked behind a counter as soon as he saw Hasan start shooting inside the Soldier Readiness Processing Center here on Nov. 5. He said he watched as Hasan, after shooting a physician's assistant, locked his eyes on him.
"The laser [on the weapon's barrel] comes across my line of sight. I closed my eyes. He discharged his weapon," said Lunsford, who was shot five times, including once in his head, and lost nearly all sight in his left eye.
Anything missing there? Go ahead and read the whole story. "God is great" is nowhere to be found.
Is the omission in one of America's great newspapers purposeful? Do all Post readers speak Arabic? Is the Post intentionally trying to avoid the potential religious motivation of the gunman?
That was my first thought, but on closer inspection, the Post story -- unlike other reports I read -- includes important background about the suspect:
A Muslim born in Virginia, whose parents had immigrated to Jordan from a Palestinian town near Jerusalem, and later from Jordan to the United States, Hasan joined the Army after graduating from Virginia Tech in the mid-1990s with a biochemistry degree.
After medical school, he began a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Hasan became more religiously observant in recent years, after the death of his parents, acquaintances have said. He began corresponding via e-mail with an imam, Anwar al-Aulaqi, who has been linked to al-Qaeda attacks against the United States.
Still, am I wrong in thinking that "Allahu Akbar" needs to be defined within the context of a mainstream news story? Certainly, most news accounts did so, but not all.
Like the Post, the San Antonio Express-News' story (also published in its sister paper, the Houston Chronicle) uses the Arabic words but fails to explain them:
After eating a quick lunch in a parking lot on Fort Hood, Zeigler entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center and took a seat in Station 13, a crowded waiting area where dozens of troops sat in four rows of chairs.
"Allahu akbar!" cried a man, producing a gun.
Within seconds, Ziegler would be among 32 people wounded in a shooting at the Army post that also left 13 dead. On Thursday, Ziegler was among 11 who testified in the second day of an evidentiary hearing against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was charged in the Nov. 5 shooting spree.
Of course, the same Express-News story alternates at ease between spelling the witness' name as Ziegler and as Zeigler, so maybe expecting important context would be asking too much.