WACO, Texas – Walking around a gun store one day last summer, the young man never took off his sunglasses as he asked questions about items he piled on the counter — behavior that struck the manager as odd.
Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo had already traveled hundreds of miles since going AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky., three weeks earlier. He bought a gun from an online seller in Nashville and paid cash for thousands of dollars of bomb-making components at a major Dallas-area retail store. Trying to avoid being caught, he wore a baseball cap and sunglasses most of the time, never used credit cards while staying in motels and traveling by bus or cab, and he had his roommate's driver's license.
But his luck ran out in Killeen, a city about 150 miles southwest of Dallas and near one of the nation's largest Army posts — Fort Hood. Guns Galore manager Cathy Cheadle "just had this feeling" about him. She and an employee talked about it and then called police — who had Abdo in custody less than 24 hours later at a motel, where authorities say he had started to build a bomb. Police hadn't even known his name or background until they detained him.
A federal jury Thursday convicted Abdo, a Muslim soldier, on six charges in connection with his failed plot to blow up a Texas restaurant full of Fort Hood troops, his religious mission to get "justice" for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A disaster was averted because somebody picked up the phone and made a call," prosecutor Mark Frazier told The Associated Press after the trial. "The people who work in businesses like this are vigilant ... and risked being embarrassed if their suspicions turned out to be nothing, but that's what we want people to do."
Abdo was convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder of U.S. officers or employees, and four counts of possessing a weapon in furtherance of a federal crime of violence. He faces up to life in prison. U.S. District Judge Walter Smith is set to sentence Abdo in July.
Abdo, 22, did not stand with his attorneys when jurors and the judge entered the room, and he showed no emotion when each of the six guilty verdicts was read by the court clerk. Abdo, who's been accused of spitting blood on authorities escorting him and a jailer, wore a mask covering his nose and mouth throughout the trial.
Abdo's lead attorney, Zach Boyd, told jurors during closing arguments that he should be acquitted because his plan never progressed beyond preparation.
When authorities detained Abdo at a Killeen motel July 27, they found bomb-making components, a loaded gun, 143 rounds of ammunition, a stun gun and magazine article on how to make an explosive device.
In a recorded police interview, Abdo said he was planning an attack in the Fort Hood area "because I don't appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan."
He told authorities he planned to put the bomb in a busy restaurant filled with soldiers, wait outside and shoot anyone who survived — and become a martyr after police killed him. Abdo told an investigator that 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, according to testimony.
During the four-day trial, a recorded jail conversation was played for jurors in which Abdo told his mother his religion inspired his actions and he was seeking "justice" for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Their suffering is my suffering," he said.
Abdo 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. That status was put on hold after he was charged with possessing child pornography — about two months before he went AWOL.
Follow Angela K. Brown on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AngelaKBrownAP