How the AWOL Muslim soldier accused of plotting to kill Fort Hood troops was foiled
By Chris Vaughn and Darren Barbee
Abdo, 21, who grew up in Garland outside of Dallas, was close to pulling off a "terror plot" in which the intended target was troops based at Fort Hood, said Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin.
"We would probably be here today giving you a different briefing had he not been stopped," Baldwin said in a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Abdo is a Muslim and sought a discharge because he said he was conflicted about his faith and his military service. An infantryman, he was most recently stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Baldwin said the early investigation, led by the FBI, has led them to believe that Abdo did not have accomplices.
"We don't have any information he was working with anyone else," the chief said.
Abdo, wanted by Army authorities since he was declared absent without leave from his Fort Campbell unit nearly a month ago, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at the Best Value Inn in Killeen, where he had been staying since his recent arrival in the Central Texas city.
It is not known at this point why he traveled to Fort Hood, but a soldier like Abdo who could legitimately bring weapons onto a base brought back frightening memories for those familiar with the shooting deaths of 13 people in the Soldier Readiness Center on Nov. 5, 2009.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist with extremist views, is being court-martialed and faces the death penalty for that attack.
"Thanks to quick action by a Texas gun dealer in alerting local police to a suspicious character, and a prompt and vigorous response by the Killeen Police Department, we may well have averted a repeat of the tragic 2009 radical Islamic terror attack on our nation's largest military installation," said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who represents the area in Congress.
"We now have an example of what works to prevent these type attacks, and as the coming days reveal more details about this attempt, we can determine better ways to thwart similar efforts in the future," Carter said.
Abdo joined the Army in March 2009 and became an infantryman.
In the summer of 2009 he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.
A year later he submitted a packet requesting conscientious objector status and was not deployed as scheduled with his unit, which left for Afghanistan last summer.
He told an interviewer on CNN last year that he thought when he enlisted that he "could serve the U.S. Army and my god simultaneously."
But as his deployment neared, he started to "really ask 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."
Senior commanders approved his conscientious objector request last May and were preparing to discharge him from the Army when investigators accused him of having child pornography on his computer.
"He was going to be discharged," said Army spokesman Troy Rolan. "Then the other charges came out, and his discharge was placed on hold."
An Article 32 hearing was held on June 15, and the investigating officer recommended moving forward with a court-martial.
At some point after that, he stopped showing up at Fort Campbell.
He was officially declared absent without leave on July 4.
The least of Abdo's troubles now appear to be from the Army.
A former neighbor of the Abdo's mother in Garland, who would not give her name, said she had met Abdo. He said Abdo's mother was single and that he also had a sister.
"He's a good boy," she said. "I do know about him. I know about him trying to get out of the Army, and I don't have anything against it. ... I know about him not wanting to fight against his people," presumably a reference to Muslims.
Abdo purchased gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun shells and a magazine for a semiautomatic weapon from Guns Galore LLC, a retail store in Killeen that serves "all hunting, recreational and gun collectors' needs," said employee Greg Ebert, a retired Killeen police officer.
Ebert said he and the manager were suspicious of the man, believed to be Abdo, whom Ebert described as aloof.
"That's why I got turned off with the old boy," he said. "He was arrogant."
Suspicions were raised after the man revealed that that he didn't know what smokeless gunpowder was but was buying several pounds of it.
"If you don't know what the (stuff) is, why are you buying it?" Ebert said. "He didn't do anything illegal. It wasn't unlawful for us to sell it to him. But why buy six pounds of powder if you're not sure how it functions?"
Ebert and the manager were also puzzled by the fact the man arrived to shop in a taxi, something unusual in a mid-sized Texas city.
After he left, Ebert and his manager reached a consensus that they were uncomfortable with Abdo. Guns Galore is the same store where Hasan purchased his handguns and ammunition in 2009.
"We alerted the police to a potential problem, and they took it from there," he said.
Authorities in Texas were unwilling to share any specifics of Abdo's intentions, but Carter said he believes the suspect was searching for a target to attack.
"Speculation based on conversation I've had with law enforcement is that he was trying to find where Fort Hood soldiers gathered, off-post," said Carter, who said Abdo was apparently looking for a restaurant. "He was planning on one or two bombs and to finish everyone off with a handgun."
"I didn't think he had knowledge of the town," said Carter of Killeen. "It wasn't the brightest thing in the world."
"It could have been the same thing all over again," said Carter of the 2009 shootings. "We're blessed that we had a head's up from police work and citizen work." Carter credited the gun shop worker and the follow-up from local police, which he said was "very, very efficient handling" of the information.
Carter said he was alerted Wednesday night by the Army.
"He had a smokeless gun powder, shotgun shells and a 9mm weapon and a pressure cooker and a timer and clocks to make bombs."
Carter, a former judge, said "I've tried a lot of high profile cases and there are copycats — it's sort of psychological." He speculates that Abdo may have wanted to draw attention to Fort Hood because Hasan is still there.
How does he feel about the situation – that came so close to a potential repeat of the 2009 shootings?
"It makes me uneasy," said Carter. "You'd like to hope Fort Hood is done with that. There's been serious work done on security."
However, he added, "When people have dedication to havoc, it takes a sharp eye from the public and police to see the next bad idea someone might have.
"The greatest thing about this is that it didn't happen."
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Comment by clicking here. © 2011, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
© 2011, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.