WACO, Texas — A federal jury on Thursday convicted a Muslim soldier on six charges in connection with a failed plot to blow up a Texas restaurant full of Fort Hood troops, his religious mission to get “justice” for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jurors in U.S. District Court in Waco deliberated a little more than an hour before finding Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo guilty of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder of U.S. officers or employees, and four counts of possessing a weapon in furtherance of a federal crime of violence.
Abdo, 22, did not stand with his attorneys when jurors and the judge entered the room, and he showed no emotion when each of the six guilty verdicts was read by the court clerk. Abdo, who’s been accused of spitting blood on authorities escorting him and a jailer, wore a mask covering his nose and mouth throughout the trial.
He faces up to life in prison. U.S. District Judge Walter Smith is set to sentence Abdo in July.
Prosecutors said Abdo had already started making a bomb when he was detained at a Killeen motel last July after going AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky. Authorities also found numerous bomb-making components, a loaded gun, 143 rounds of ammunition, a stun gun and other items in his backpack and motel room.
In a recorded police interview, Abdo said he was planning to pull off an attack in the Fort Hood area “because I don’t appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan.”
He told authorities he planned to put the bomb in a busy restaurant filled with soldiers, wait outside and shoot anyone who survived — and become a martyr after police killed him. Abdo told an investigator that he didn’t plan an attack inside Fort Hood because he didn’t believe he would be able to get through security at the gates, according to testimony.
During the four-day trial, a recorded jail conversation was played for jurors in which Abdo told his mother his religion inspired his actions and he was seeking “justice” for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Their suffering is my suffering,” he said.
Abdo’s lead attorney, Zach Boyd, told jurors during closing arguments that Abdo should be acquitted because his plan never progressed beyond preparation.
Killeen police began investigating Abdo on July 26 after a gun store employee reported a young man bought 6 pounds of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semiautomatic pistol, while behaving in an odd manner and seeming to know little about his purchases.
Officers also learned that Abdo bought a U.S. Army uniform and a “Smith” name patch from another store, and jurors saw surveillance footage showing him leaving the store wearing the uniform he just bought. He was detained July 27 after police tracked him to the motel in Killeen, about 150 miles southwest of Dallas.
“A disaster was averted because somebody picked up the phone and made a call,” prosecutor Mark Frazier told The Associated Press after the trial, when the judge’s gag order was lifted. “The people who work in businesses like this are vigilant … and risked being embarrassed if their suspicions turned out to be nothing, but that’s what we want people to do.”
Abdo went AWOL from the Kentucky Army post over the Fourth of July weekend, about two months after he was charged with possessing child pornography, which put his conscientious objector status on hold.
Abdo then went to Nashville, bought a gun from an online seller and kept traveling until he ended up in his Dallas-area hometown. He paid cash for food, motel rooms and bus and cab fare and used his roommate’s ID card. When his Dallas friends didn’t help him, he wanted to go to South Texas but chose Killeen because he remembered news reports of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage in which a Muslim soldier is charged, according to testimony.
Maj. Nidal Hasan faces the death penalty in the Fort Hood shootings if convicted at his trial, which starts in August.
Abdo became a Muslim when he was 17. He enlisted in the military in 2009, thinking that the service wouldn’t conflict with his religious beliefs. But according to his essay that was part of his conscientious objector status application, Abdo reconsidered as he explored Islam further.
In that essay, which he sent to the AP in 2010, Abdo said acts like the Fort Hood shootings “run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim.”