KILLEEN, Texas (AP) — An AWOL infantry soldier caught with weapons and a bomb inside a backpack admitted planning what would have been Fort Hood’s second terrorist attack by a Muslim soldier in less than two years, the Army said Thursday.
He might have succeeded at carrying it out, police said, if a gun-store clerk hadn’t alerted them to the man’s suspicious activity.
The 21-year-old suspect, Pfc. Naser Abdo, was arrested Wednesday at a motel about three miles from Fort Hood’s main gate.
Pfc. Abdo had sought to gain conscientious objector status to avoid serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, calling both wars contrary to Islam. He was the son of a Christian mother and a Muslim father and chose to follow Islam at age 17.
He was approved as a conscientious objector this year, but that status was put on hold after an Article 32 military hearing last month recommended that he be court-martialed over military charges that 34 images of child pornography were found on a computer he used.
He went absent without leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., during the July 4 weekend.
In addition, the military’s criminal investigation division, along with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, investigated Pfc. Abdo earlier after he was flagged for making unspecified anti-American comments while taking a language class, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.
The official, who spoke on the 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, the official said.
Police in Killeen said their break in the case came from Guns Galore LLC — the same gun store where Maj. Nidal Hasan bought a pistol used in the 2009 attack.
Store clerk Greg Ebert said the man arrived by taxi Tuesday and bought 6 pounds of smokeless gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semiautomatic pistol.
Mr. Ebert said he called authorities because he and his co-workers “felt uncomfortable with his overall demeanor and the fact he didn’t know what the hell he was buying.”
According to an Army alert sent via email and obtained by the Associated Press, Killeen police learned from the taxi company that Pfc. Abdo had been picked up from a local motel and had also visited an Army surplus store where he paid cash for a uniform bearing Fort Hood unit patches.
Agents found firearms and “items that could be identified as bomb-making components, including gunpowder,” in Pfc. Abdo’s motel room, FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said.
The Army alert said Pfc. Abdo “was in possession of a large quantity of ammunition, weapons and a bomb inside a backpack,” and upon questioning admitted planning an attack on Fort Hood.
Officials have not offered details about a possible motive.