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Jury convicts private of plot to bomb restaurant filled with soldiers

By Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman –

WACO, Texas — A federal jury on Thursday needed slightly more than an hour to find Pfc. Naser Abdo guilty of all six charges against him relating to his plot last year to bomb Fort Hood soldiers at a Killeen restaurant and then shoot the survivors.

The 22-year-old Garland soldier, who previously had won conscientious objector status based on his Muslim faith, faces life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for this summer .

Abdo, who was flanked by five deputy marshals as the sentence was read, showed no reaction to the verdict, which came after three days of testimony from about two dozen witnesses. He was found guilty of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder and four weapons charges.

Defense attorneys called just three witnesses, all of them Killeen police officers, and suggested that Abdo was not read his Miranda rights before he confessed. The officers said they did read Abdo his rights before recording their interview with him.

Abdo’s recorded confessions, both to his mother and police officers, played a central role in prosecutors’ case against Abdo, who also gave FBI investigators detailed accounts of his plot over almost 11 hours of interrogation.

During closing arguments, prosecutors played a series of video clips in which Abdo told police and his mother that he intended to kill Fort Hood soldiers.

A recorded jailhouse conversation showed his incredulous mother asking whether he was set up. “It’s all true, mom,” Abdo said.

“I can’t wrap my head around this; there must be a reason,” his mother continued. “The reason is religion, mom, there is no other reason,” Abdo responded.

In a recording of Abdo’s initial confession to Killeen police in the moments after he was arrested, Abdo told an officer he was planning an attack on Fort Hood soldiers because he “didn’t appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan.”

Abdo was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, which has made several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abdo also told an Austin-based FBI agent that he picked Killeen to “remind people” of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood. In an earlier court appearance, Abdo yelled out Hasan’s name.

Prosecutor Larry Schneider pointed to testimony from a federal agent who said Abdo told him he was seeking to bomb a Chinese buffet restaurant during the lunch hour when it would be crowded with soldiers. Abdo wanted to “literally get the most bang for his buck,” Schneider said.

Prosecutors told jurors that the vigilance of everyday citizens thwarted Abdo, who triggered his own arrest after acting suspiciously inside a Killeen gun store.

An earlier attempt by Abdo to kidnap and videotape the execution of a Fort Campbell soldier was foiled after he had a verbal confrontation with a clerk in a gun store outside the Kentucky Army post, according to witnesses. In both gun store visits, Abdo never took off dark sunglasses and acted aggressively and awkwardly, according to testimony. Clerks at Guns Galore in Killeen notified police of Abdo’s visit, in which he purchased six pounds of gunpowder, and Abdo was arrested the next day at his motel just outside the gates of Fort Hood.

Abdo’s attorney, Zachary Boyd, argued that Abdo’s actions didn’t constitute attempted murder because he had not built a bomb when he was arrested. “Having a plan is different than attempting,” he said. “It didn’t happen.’”

But prosecutors argued that Abdo had acquired all the components needed to build a homemade bomb. An FBI explosives expert testified Thursday that it would have taken a person about 30 minutes to assemble the bomb using the instructions in a Qaida magazine found in Abdo’s backpack and possessing all the components that Abdo had. In Abdo’s hotel room and backpack, police found pressure cookers, gunpowder, clocks, electrical tape and a pistol.

In closing arguments, prosecutors sketched out Abdo’s journey to Killeen from Fort Campbell, which he fled on July 4, 2011, after his unit learned of his botched attempt to purchase a firearm. At the time, Abdo was facing child pornography charges from the Army, which he claimed was retaliation for his conscientious objector bid. Outside the presence of the jury, Boyd said Fort Campbell legal officers have since dropped those charges; Fort Campbell officials did not respond to a request for confirmation.

Abdo left Kentucky in a rush, abandoning his car and dumping a number of items, including body bags, a shovel and bleach, part of his initial murder plot, prosecutors said.

Throughout the trial, Abdo has worn a white medical mask that covers most of his face. Earlier this month he was accused of spitting blood at his jailers and the deputy marshals guarding him at the courthouse, and Abdo later claimed to have infected himself with HIV before coming to Killeen. Deputy marshals removed protective eyewear earlier this week after Boyd complained they would prejudice the jury.

While his previous court appearances have been marked by outbursts, he appeared calm during his trial, conversing frequently with his attorneys.

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