Army Pvt. Naser Jason Abdo, 21, went AWOL from his Kentucky base July 4. (HO, Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — A possible terrorist plot against military personnel at Ft. Hood in Texas was disrupted with the arrest of an Army private who had purchased ammunition and bomb-making materials in preparation for such an attack, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, a 21-year-old Texas native who had successfully argued that he was a conscientious objector whose Muslim faith would not allow him to deploy to Afghanistan, was arrested at a motel Wednesday by Killeen, Texas, police after his purchase of gunpowder at a local gun store aroused employees' suspicion. Abdo, who had been charged this year with possession of child pornography, had been absent without leave since early July.
Authorities suspect that Abdo, who was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, was planning to construct bombs and detonate them at a restaurant popular with Ft. Hood personnel, according to a U.S. official who has been briefed on the case. Abdo intended to gun down survivors after the bombs went off, said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not in law enforcement.
"Military personnel were targeted," Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said at a news conference Thursday. After interviewing Abdo, authorities believe he was acting alone, Baldwin said.
"I would classify it as a terror plot," he said.
The U.S. official said Abdo chose the Ft. Hood area for the planned attack because the base was the scene of a 2009 shooting rampage. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 at a medical facility there.
The gun store in Killeen, near Ft. Hood, that Abdo visited was the same one where Hasan bought weapons and ammunition, authorities said. Hasan is awaiting court-martial on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, charges that could bring the death penalty.
Abdo's life seemed to spin out of control in recent months. In May, the Army accepted his claim to be a conscientious objector. But a week later, the Army put the resulting discharge on hold after charging him with possession of child pornography and beginning court-martial proceedings against him.
Abdo has denied the charges and says they are retaliation for refusing to go to Afghanistan.
He went AWOL from Ft. Campbell on July 4 and had not been heard from until his arrest at the motel, the U.S. official said. In a backpack and in the motel room, authorities found six pounds of smokeless gunpowder, Christmas lights and battery-operated clocks, a pressure cooker, a handgun and shotgun shells, the official said.
"Since he is in the custody of civilian authorities, jurisdiction over any potential new charges is yet to be determined. If returned to military control, he may face additional charges including AWOL," Army spokesman Col. Thomas W. Collins said in a statement.
In an interview with CNN last year about his request for conscientious objector status, Abdo said that when he joined the Army in 2009, he did not think his religion would prevent him from serving in combat. "I was under the impression that I could serve both the U.S. Army and my God simultaneously," he said.
But as his deployment to Afghanistan neared, he began to reconsider. "I don't believe that Islam allows me to operate in any kind of warfare at all, including the U.S. military and any war it partakes in. I believe that our first duty as a Muslim is to serve God," he told CNN.
Abdo is being held at the Killeen City Jail pending federal charges, Baldwin said. "He is a very dangerous individual, and he's where he needs to be," he said.
"We've been through a lot in this community," Baldwin said. "We're probably more familiar with this kind of environment than most."
Times staff writers Stephen Ceasar in Los Angeles and Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report.