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Soldier accused of planning new Fort Hood attacks

Officials say previous plot fueled suspect

By J. David Goodman
New York Times / July 29, 2011

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KILLEEN, Texas - An Army soldier who had been absent without leave since earlier this month was arrested this week near Fort Hood with a gun and suspicious materials in what local law enforcement officials described yesterday as a “terror plot’’ to kill other soldiers.

During questioning after his arrest, the soldier, Private First Class Naser Jason Abdo, admitted that he specifically planned to attack Fort Hood, Associated Press reported last night. An FBI spokesman said that he could not provide further details because it was a continuing investigation.

The police in Killeen, Texas, arrested Abdo in a motel room near the southern edge of the base Wednesday, one day after a clerk at a local gun store alerted the police about a suspicious purchase, the police said.

According to a law enforcement official, among the items found in Abdo’s room at the time of his arrest were a military uniform with Fort Hood patches, a pistol, shotgun shells and an article on “how to make a bomb in your kitchen’’ from the English-language Al Qaeda magazine Inspire. He also had more than one wall clock, a cellphone, duct tape, and a shopping list for what appeared to be explosive components, the official said.

The police said they had interviewed Abdo in the city jail and that his statement “leads us to believe that military personnel were targeted,’’ said Dennis M. Baldwin, the Killeen chief of police. He said Abdo did not appear to be part of any larger plot. “As far as we know, he did act alone,’’ Baldwin said.

It was unclear what connection Abdo had to Fort Hood. He had been absent without leave from Fort Campbell in Kentucky since early this month.

The announcement of his arrest renewed a sense of vulnerability at Fort Hood, where on Nov. 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, went on a shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 32 at a medical facility on the base. Hasan’s trial is set for March 5.

Base officials quickly issued a statement to reassure soldiers. “At this time, there has been no incident at Fort Hood,’’ officials said. “We continue our diligence in keeping our force protection at appropriate levels.’’

Abdo, who joined the Army in April of 2009, gained national attention last summer when he refused to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan, insisting his Muslim faith prevented him from serving. He fought his deployment since 2010 and gave multiple interviews.

“I was under the impression that I could serve both the US Army and my God simultaneously,’’ he said in a television interview with CNN last summer. “As the time had come near to deployment, I started really asking myself . . . whether God would accept what I was doing and whether I was really meant to go to war as opposed to the peace that Islam preaches.’’

Army officials said Abdo was granted conscientious objector status in May, but his discharge was put on hold after the Army said it had discovered child pornography on his computer.

James Branum, a lawyer who represented Abdo during his conscientious objector case but who is not representing him in this matter, said Abdo had been “pretty upset’’ about the child pornography charges. “He told me that in good conscience he could not plead guilty,’’ he said.

In June a military grand jury referred his case to a general court-martial. Abdo disappeared shortly after.

A spokeswoman for the Killeen Police Department said Abdo was being held on charges of possessing obscene material and being absent without leave.

The Washington Post reported that after he was charged with child pornography, Abdo hitchhiked from Kentucky to Killeen, according to officials. After checking into a motel there, he went to the same gun store where Hasan bought a high-powered semiautomatic pistol two years ago.

David Cheadle, store manager of Guns Galore, said Abdo grabbed six cans of smokeless gunpowder but asked what smokeless gunpowder was prompting suspicion.

“It just didn’t sit right,’’ he said, adding that Greg Ebert, an employee who spoke with Abdo, then called the police.