KILLEEN, Texas — As Pfc. Naser Abdo beseeched officials to grant him conscientious objector status and release him from the military, he condemned a fellow Muslim soldier accused of shooting 13 people to death at Fort Hood. Such acts, he wrote, “run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim.”
Less than a year later, officials say Abdo has admitted planning to launch another attack on Fort Hood with a bomb in a backpack and weapons stashed in a motel room where he was arrested Wednesday, about 3 miles from the Texas Army base’s main gate.
The 21-year-old’s writings, including the essay obtained by The Associated Press in which he deplored the 2009 shootings, portray a devout infantry soldier struggling with his faith while facing the prospect of deployment and what he felt was the scorn of his peers.
“Overall, as a Muslim I feel that I will not be able to carry out my military duties due to my conscientious objection,” Abdo wrote in his application for the status. “Therefore, unless I separate myself from the military, I would potentially be putting the soldiers I work with in jeopardy.
“In this instance, I would be failing in my duty to my unit, my army and my god.”
Abdo was approved as a conscientious objector this year, but his discharge was put on hold amid 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.
On July 3, Abdo tried to buy a gun at a store near the Kentucky post, according to the company that owns the store. Abdo told an AP reporter a week later that he was concerned about his safety and had considered purchasing a gun for protection, but had not yet done so.
Police in Killeen said their break in the case came Tuesday 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 Abdo arrived by taxi and bought 6 pounds of smokeless gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic pistol.
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.”
“We would probably be here today, giving you a different briefing, had he not been stopped,” said Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin, who called the plan “a terror plot.”
According to an Army alert sent via email and obtained by the AP, Killeen police learned from the taxi company that Abdo had been picked up from a local motel and also had 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 Abdo’s motel room, FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said. The FBI planned to charge Abdo with possessing bomb-making materials.
An Oklahoma lawyer who has represented Abdo said Thursday he hadn’t heard him in weeks. “I’ve been quite anxious to get in touch with him,” said attorney James Branum.
The Army alert said 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.
The military’s criminal investigation division, along with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, had previously investigated Abdo 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 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.
As the first anniversary of the 2009 Fort Hood rampage approached, Abdo sent to the AP the essay describing how he became a “different Muslim” after going through basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and enduring religious harassment.
“Often times, during basic training the trainees would insult Islam and insult Muslims,” he wrote. As a result, Abdo said he grew reclusive and stopped socializing.
Abdo grew up in Garland, a Dallas suburb about 170 miles from Fort Hood. In his essay, he said his mother is Christian and his father is Muslim, and that he decided to follow Islam when he was 17.
“Little did I know that when I first became a Muslim that I was going to learn what Islam meant to me and what I was willing to sacrifice for it,” he wrote.
Abdo said life was better after he arrived at his first duty station, but that he studied Islam more closely as he neared deployment to learn “whether going to war was the right thing to do Islamically.”
“I began to understand and believe that only God can give legitimacy to war and not humankind,” he wrote. “That’s when I realized my conscience would not allow me to deploy.”
His application was filed in June 2010. Abdo wrote that if it was granted, he looked forward to “rejoining the Muslim community in Dallas and spending some time on ‘The path of Allah.” He said he would devote days or weeks travelling to other states and sleeping in mosques to “revive the faith of the Muslim nation.”
The Army’s Conscientious Objector Review board denied his request, but the deputy assistant secretary of the Army Review Boards Agency recommended this year he be separated from the Army as a conscientious objector. The discharge was delayed when he was charged with possession of child pornography on May 13.
Fort Campbell civilian spokesman Bob Jenkins said Abdo had been aware of the child pornography investigation since November.
Abdo attempted to purchase a gun July 3 from Quantico Tactical, a store near Fort Campbell in Oak Grove, Ky., said David Hensley, president of the seven-store chain.
Hensley said Abdo went into the store twice that day. The first time, after asking questions, he left. The second time, he attempted to buy a handgun, Hensley said.
“He exhibited behavior that alerted our staff and our staff refused to, based upon that behavior, sell him a firearm,” he said.
The AP was among the media outlets to interview Abdo in the past year when reporting on his request for objector status. On July 12, Abdo contacted an AP reporter with whom he had spoken previously, said he had gone AWOL and considered purchasing a gun for personal protection. Abdo said he had not yet done so, because he knew he would have to give his name and other information to the gun dealer.
The AP described the contents of this conversation on July 14 to a civilian Army spokesman. The next day, when contacted by Army investigators, the AP said it did not know Abdo’s location and provided the telephone number from which he made his original call.