American Islamic groups braced themselves for a public backlash against the faith on Thursday after it was revealed that the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood massacre has a Muslim name.

Soon after Pentagon officials named one of the shooters at the Fort Hood facility as Nidal Malik Hasan, groups rallied to condemn an act President Barack Obama had earlier described as a "horrific outburst of violence."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim group in the country, appealed for calm in the wake of the killing spree that left 12 people dead and 31 wounded.

"We ask for calm in this situation, and we fear for a backlash against American Muslims in light of previous unfortunate incidents that were linked to Muslims," Nihad Awad, the group's executive director, told the Associated Press.

"Although the attacker has a Muslim name, that does not mean there is any religious justification for" his actions, Awad continued, adding that "any faith, any ideology is vulnerable to claims by some deranged individuals ... for their irrational and criminal behavior."

Awad said CAIR condemned the Thursday shooting "in the strongest possible terms," and "our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this attack, and our sincere condolences to the families of those who were killed."

The debate over whether the alleged shooter was motivated by religion or ideology has already begun.

On Fox News Thursday evening, host Shepard Smith said that the alleged shooter's name "tells us a lot" about the incident, though he did not elaborate. Notably, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) agreed with Smith's assertion.

CAIR released a statement Thursday evening, in which it urged "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."

Qaseem Ali Uqdah, who was a Marine for 21 years before becoming the executive director at the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, now fears a "witch hunt" like that which followed September 11, 2001.

"This is a criminal act and we have to treat it like a criminal act, not something to do with religion" he told Agence France-Presse.

For the estimated 3,500 Muslims in the US armed forces, Uqdah said there could be some fallout from the attack.

"What we don't need is people downrange sitting in foxholes (in Afghanistan or Iraq) questioning if you are a Christian, if you are a Muslim or if you are a Jew ... that is not what we need as a nation.

"We need to fight the war on terror together," he added.

In a Pew survey published last September, 38 percent of respondents said that Islam encouraged violence more than other religions.

Fifty-eight percent said there was a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the United States.

-- With Agence France-Presse