WACO, Texas -- A Muslim soldier on the run for three weeks after going absent without leave from a Kentucky Army post found no help from friends in his Dallas-area hometown, where he hatched a plan and bought supplies to blow up a restaurant filled with Fort Hood troops, according to testimony at his federal trial Tuesday.
Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, who was AWOL from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, bought pressure cookers, clocks, wires and other bomb-making components at a Dallas-area store in the early morning of July 26, according to surveillance footage and receipts shown to jurors. Abdo then paid $400 for a taxi ride to Killeen, Texas, just outside Fort Hood, arriving about 3:30 a.m. at a motel, the cabdriver testified.
After police acting on a tip detained Abdo at the motel July 27, they say they found the items in his room and backpack. He was stopped just hours before completing assembly of the bomb, showing he "intended to commit mass murder," prosecutor Gregg Sofer told jurors earlier Tuesday during opening statements.
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 said the government is "not going to be able to get around that fact."
After going AWOL, Abdo bought a gun in Nashville after meeting the seller online, according to court testimony. He stayed in Memphis for two weeks -- paying for motel rooms, food, cabs and bus fare with cash or gift cards so he couldn't be tracked, and used someone else's ID card, according to testimony.
FBI Special Agent C. Michael Owens testified Abdo told him that after going AWOL, he wanted to flee the country or go to Edinburg to seek refuge with a man who helped his father years ago. But when the cabdriver in Dallas could not take him to South Texas, 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.
The reference was 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 told investigators that he went to Texas to "martyr himself" for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, Owens said. Abdo told investigators he planned to put a bomb in what looked like a gift box, leave it at a Chinese buffet frequented by Fort Hood soldiers, wait outside and shoot any survivors after the blast. Abdo said he expected to be killed by authorities or arrested, Owens told jurors.
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 (2.7 kilograms) of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semiautomatic pistol, while seeming to know little about his purchases, the store manager testified Tuesday. Officers also learned that he bought a U.S. Army uniform and a "Smith" name patch from another store, and jurors saw surveillance footage showing Abdo leaving the store wearing the uniform he just bought.
Another incident raised authorities' concern after Abdo went AWOL. On July 4, police in Oak Grove, Ky., near Fort Campbell, reported finding a shovel, two large containers of bleach, body bags and a digital camera in a trash bin outside a truck stop. Oak Grove police Sgt. Victor Lynch told jurors he 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.