SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A jury on Thursday convicted a U.S. soldier of attempting to build a bomb and use it to blow up a restaurant near the Fort Hood Army post in Texas to get revenge for the suffering of fellow Muslims in the Middle East at the hands of the military.
Private First Class Naser Jason Abdo, 22, was arrested last July after a tip from a gun store owner who became alarmed by Abdo’s befuddled attempts to purchase smokeless gunpowder and weapons.
Abdo was also convicted of attempted murder of U.S. officers or employees, and four counts of possessing a weapon to commit a violent crime. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on July 20.
Abdo travelled from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to the army post in Fort Hood, where Major Nidal Hasan is charged with killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting spree.
Abdo had been granted conscientious objector status for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because of his Muslim faith.
Witnesses testified that Abdo set out to build a bomb that he planned to detonate near the main gate of Fort Hood at a Chinese restaurant, which is known to be frequented by soldiers and their families.
Abdo planned to open fire on the victims fleeing the bombing and the first responders rushing to the scene. One investigator said he referred to civilians who would be killed as “collateral damage.”
When he was arrested at a motel room in Killeen, Texas, Abdo had bomb making items in his backpack, and he also had an article allegedly taken from an al-Qaeda publication, entitled, “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
Abdo appeared in court for his trial with a surgical mask covering his nose and mouth, and U.S. Marshals who escorted him in wore goggles.
Abdo had said that he injected himself with the HIV virus in order to “continue the jihad” and at one point he had bitten his lip and attempted to spit blood on jail guards. Officials said there is no evidence that Abdo is HIV positive.
During one court hearing, Abdo yelled “Nidal Hasan Fort Hood 2009!” as he was being led out of court, a reference to the 2009 shooting spree.
Defence lawyers argued that Abdo never built the bomb and had no ability to build the bomb. Abdo did not testify during the trial.
“It is important to note that this plot was interrupted and a potential tragedy averted because an alert citizen notified law enforcement of suspicious activity, triggering prompt intervention and investigation,” U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said after the jury verdict was read.
Jeffrey Addicott, a former Green Beret and judge advocate and the head of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said Abdo is an example of a “new breed” of American-born militant.
“They are not hard core al Qaeda members. They have been radicalized as Americans here in this country. These are people whose plots are not as sophisticated. A lot of them are very sophomoric in their approaches, and many, like this man, are not as willing to die for their cause,” Addicott said.
Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker