KILLEEN, Texas — An AWOL soldier who had weapons stashed in a motel room near Fort Hood has admitted planning an attack on the Texas post, where 13 people died in 2009 in the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation, the Army said in an alert issued Thursday.
Pfc. Naser Abdo, a 21-year-old soldier granted conscientious objector status this year after he said his Muslim beliefs prevented him from fighting, was arrested Wednesday. Agents found firearms and “items that could be identified as bomb-making components, including gunpowder,” in his motel room, according to FBI spokesman Erik Vasys.
The Army alert sent via email and obtained by The Associated Press says Killeen police arrested Abdo after a tip from the owners of a gun shop and that he “was in possession of a large quantity of ammunition, weapons and a bomb inside a backpack.”
Upon questioning, the alert says, he admitted planning an attack on Fort Hood.
Officials have not offered details about Abdo’s possible intentions. The infantry soldier from Fort Campbell, Ky., whose hometown is Garland, Texas, applied for conscientious objector status last year. A military review board recommended this spring that he be separated from the Army.
The discharge was delayed after Abdo was charged with possessing child pornography. Fort Campbell civilian spokesman Bob Jenkins said Abdo “was fully aware that he was being investigated for possessing child pornography since November 2010.” An Article 32 military hearing last month recommended he be court-martialed; he went absent without leave during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Abdo told an AP reporter a week later that he was concerned about his safety and had considered purchasing a gun for protection, but had not yet done so.
The military’s criminal investigation division, along with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, also investigated Abdo earlier this year after he was flagged for making unspecified anti-American comments while taking a language class in April, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said neither the military nor the task force discovered anything at the time to indicate Abdo was planning an attack.
Abdo’s arrest came after the owners of a local gun store — the same store where the 2009 Fort Hood shootings suspect Maj. Nidal Hasan bought a pistol used in the attack — called police, the Army’s alert said.
Store clerk Greg Ebert said the man arrived at Guns Galore LLC by taxi Tuesday and bought 6 pounds of smokeless gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic pistol, paying about $250. Ebert said he became concerned when the man asked questions indicating he didn’t know much about the items.
“[We] felt uncomfortable with his overall demeanor and the fact he didn’t know what the hell he was buying,” Ebert said. “I thought it prudent to contact the local authorities, which I did.”
Killeen police learned from the taxi company that Abdo had been picked up from a local motel and that he also had visited an Army surplus store where he paid cash for a uniform bearing Fort Hood unit patches, according to the Army alert.
Vasys said the FBI would charge Abdo with possessing bomb-making components and he would be transferred from Killeen police into federal custody. Vasys said there was nothing to indicate Abdo was “working with others.”
An Oklahoma attorney who has represented Abdo said Thursday he hadn’t heard from Abdo in weeks.
“I’ve been quite anxious to get in touch with him,” said attorney James Branum.
The AP was among the media outlets to interview Abdo in the past year when reporting on his request for objector status. On Tuesday, July 12, Abdo contacted an AP reporter with whom he had spoken previously, said he had gone AWOL and considered purchasing a gun for personal protection. Abdo said he had not yet done so, because he knew he would have to give his name and other information to the gun dealer.
Abdo said he had received critical emails about his conscientious objector case and was worried about his safety as an increasing number of soldiers were returning to Fort Campbell from Afghanistan.
The AP described the contents of this conversation that Thursday to a civilian Army spokesman. The next day, when contacted by Army investigators, the AP said it did not know Abdo’s location and provided the telephone number from which he made his original call.
Abdo sought conscientious objector status in June 2010 while at Fort Campbell, citing his beliefs as a Muslim. He said in a written application that before he entered the Army in 2009 he believed he could maintain his faith and carry out the orders given to him.
During his training, he said, he heard insults about Muslims. As his unit prepared for an upcoming deployment, he said he began studying Islamic teachings about war and peace. He said he began seeking opinions of religious scholars and Quranic verses to determine if it was possible for him to serve in the Army.
“I realized through further reflection that god did not give legitimacy to the war in Afghanistan, Iraq or any war the U.S. Army would conceivably participate in,” Abdo wrote in his request for objector status.
His application was denied by the Army’s Conscientious Objector Review board. But a review board recommended he be separated from the Army as a conscientious objector. The discharge was delayed when he was charged with possession of child pornography on May 13.
A U.S. defense official said Thursday that when Abdo was declared AWOL his name was put on a list of AWOL cases distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide — something that is done as a matter of routine, and not because the Army had any suspicions about Abdo planning a violent act.
Once the Killeen police learned his name, following the phone call from the gun shop, they spotted it on the AWOL list, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd in Dallas; Pauline Jelinek, Eileen Sullivan and Robert Burns in Washington; and Janet Cappiello in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.