WACO, Texas -- A Muslim soldier was stopped just hours before completing assembly of a bomb that he planned to detonate at a restaurant full of Fort Hood troops, prosecutors said during opening statements Tuesday at his federal trial.
After Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was arrested at a motel near the Texas Army post in July, police found components for an explosive device in his room and backpack, showing he "intended to commit mass murder," prosecutor Gregg Sofer said.
Abdo, 22, faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and five other charges.
But lead defense attorney Zach Boyd countered in U.S. District Court in Waco that no bomb was ever built, and the government is "not going to be able to get around that fact."
Abdo was AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky., when he was arrested in Killeen. He told investigators that he went to Texas to "martyr himself" for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, said FBI special agent C. Michael Owens, the first prosecution witness.
Owens testified that Abdo told investigators he planned to put a bomb in what looked like a gift box, leave it a Chinese buffet frequented by Fort Hood soldiers, wait outside and shoot any survivors.
But he was headed for South Texas and not the Fort Hood area when he went AWOL. He said he stayed in several cities - paying for motel rooms and food with cash or gift cards so he couldn't be tracked. And when he couldn't get to his destination by taxi, Abdo said, he looked at a map and recognized Killeen because of the news reports after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage in which a Muslim soldier is charged, Owens said.
"He said he wanted to give faith to brother Nidal ... and said 'People think he's crazy, but he's not crazy and I came here to remind the people,'" Owens testified.
Abdo was referring to Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the shootings that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted at his military trial, set to start in August.
Abdo said 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, Owens said. But Abdo said he bought a military uniform at a local store because it was necessary to fit into the community, Owens testified.
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 seeming to know little about his purchases, according to previous court testimony and documents. Officers also learned that he bought a U.S. Army uniform and a "Smith" name patch from another store but didn't know his unit. He was detained at the motel July 27.
Military officials had been trying to find Abdo since he went AWOL over the July 4 weekend. That's when police in Oak Grove, Ky., near Fort Campbell, also reported finding a shovel, two large bleach containers, body bags and a digital camera in a trash bin outside a truck stop.
Oak Grove police Sgt. Victor Lynch told jurors Tuesday that "his heart was racing" and he thought someone was in danger when he saw those items. Lynch found Abdo's car at a nearby restaurant, where a truck stop employee had reported seeing him go after dumping the items. Lynch said he found a cattle prod, three boxes of handcuffs, trash bags and a large body bag carrier in the car, but Abdo was nowhere to be found.
Owens testified earlier that Abdo said he had planned to offer a Fort Campbell soldier a ride, kill him and videotape it while reciting the names of people he felt had been wronged by the U.S. military - including Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was raped before she and her family were killed in 2006. Five current or former U.S. soldiers went to prison, one for a life term, for their roles in that attack.