WACO, Texas – A soldier accused of planning to bomb Fort Hood troops wore a mask in court for the first time Monday as jury selection began in his federal trial.
Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo has been accused of biting through his lip and spitting blood on a deputy U.S. marshal and a sheriff's deputy who were escorting him after a court hearing last month. Officials reported a previous blood-spitting incident on a jailer.
Abdo, 22, wore an oval mask over his nose and mouth Monday, while several U.S. marshals standing near him wore protective glasses.
McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch said he couldn't comment on why Abdo was wearing a mask, and a gag order prevents attorneys from discussing anything about the case publicly.
Abdo, a Muslim soldier who was AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky., is accused of planning to bomb a Killeen restaurant filled with Fort Hood soldiers and shoot any survivors last summer. Jury selection started Monday at his federal trial in Waco, about 50 miles northeast of Killeen, the city just outside Fort Hood.
Abdo faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, the most serious of the six charges on which he's being tried.
He is not being tried in military court. Defense attorneys have not commented on a possible strategy but are not seeking an insanity defense.
Killeen police began investigating Abdo after an employee from Guns Galore called July 26, saying a young man bought six pounds of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semiautomatic pistol — while seeming to know little about his purchases, according to previous court testimony and documents. Officers also learned that he bought a U.S. Army uniform and a "Smith" name patch from another store, but didn't know his unit, according to testimony.
After officers tracked Abdo to a motel near one of the Army post's gates, they detained him July 27. Authorities who searched his backpack and motel room say they found a handgun, ingredients for an explosive device and an article titled "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom." An article with that title appears in an al-Qaida magazine.
"I was planning an attack here in the Fort Hood community because I don't appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan," he can be heard telling a detective in a patrol car recording, played at a court hearing last month.
Abdo told authorities he planned to make two bombs and detonate them in a restaurant frequented by Fort Hood soldiers, according to documents in the case.
While jailed in Waco last fall, Abdo told a Nashville, Tenn., television station that he originally planned to kidnap and videotape the "execution" of a high-ranking Fort Campbell official "who participated in the Afghan mission" — but fled after military police learned he was visiting nearby gun stores.
He went AWOL from the Kentucky Army post over the July 4 weekend, about two months after he was charged with possessing child pornography, which put his conscientious objector status on hold.
Abdo, who was born in Texas and grew up in a Dallas suburb, became a Muslim when he was 17. He enlisted in the military in 2009, thinking that the service wouldn't conflict with his religious beliefs. But according to his essay that was part of his conscientious objector status application, Abdo reconsidered as he explored Islam further.
In that essay, which he sent to The Associated Press in 2010, Abdo said acts like the 2009 Fort Hood shootings "run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim" and were "an act of aggression by a man and not by Islam."
After his first court appearance last July, Abdo shouted "Nidal Hasan Fort Hood 2009!" It was an apparent homage to Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist charged in that shooting rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen. Hasan's military trial is to start in August at the Texas Army post.
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