KILLEEN, Texas – The suspect accused of planning another attack on Fort Hood had holed up in a motel room in Killeen earlier this week, authorities said, with a .40-caliber handgun, a litany of bomb-making ingredients and a plan to make this military city ache all over again.
Instead, Naser Jason Abdo appeared Friday in U.S. District Court in Waco. There, the Army private shouted his inspiration for the alleged plot to set off two bombs at a popular restaurant outside the sprawling Fort Hood military base.
“Nidal Hasan – Fort Hood 2009!” he said, a defiant reference to the Army major and psychiatrist and fellow Muslim who is charged with gunning down 13 people at the base nearly two years ago.
Killeen, an unassuming 128,000-person city north of Austin, was deeply wounded by the rampage. The military is its lifeblood. During lunch, McDonald’s and Whataburger are packed with men and women in fatigues. Military surplus stores are nearly as plentiful as hotels wrapped with “We Support Our Troops” banners.
On Friday, it was a city rattled by what-ifs and whys, but also a city relieved.
“Thank God nothing bad happened,” said Suraiya Rabbani, a school counselor who’s lived here for two decades. “Thank God no lives were lost.”
A Muslim on her way to Friday prayers, Rabbani had added reasons for relief. She recalled how the adults at her mosque had to soothe children who were taunted after the 2009 attack. She found herself explaining, repeatedly, that Islam was a religion of peace.
When she learned that Abdo claimed to share her faith, her stomach sank.
“He had to come here to Killeen to do this?” she said.
Like Hasan, Abdo was opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because he said they violated his Muslim beliefs. While stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., Abdo had even been approved as a conscientious objector for discharge from the Army. But that discharge, granted earlier this year, was put on hold soon afterward when the 21-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography. He’d been absent without leave since early July.
This week, authorities said, he checked into an Americas Best Value Inn and Suites just outside Fort Hood.
There, Abdo rattled employees at one point by pacing in the lobby while waiting for a taxi, one worker said in an interview. He wore tan hospital-type scrubs and sunglasses, which they found odd. No one had been inside his room, the employee said, because he had hung a do-not-disturb sign on the door.
When authorities arrested Abdo Wednesday at the motel, court papers said, they found the makings of an arsenal: smokeless gunpowder, shotgun shells and pellets, two clocks, two spools of auto wire, an electric drill and two pressure cookers. There was epoxy and glue, tape, gloves, a battery and Christmas lights, some of it in his backpack.
Abdo, court papers said, had also saved an article titled, “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom.”
In interviews with authorities, court papers said, Abdo “admitted that he planned to assemble two bombs in the hotel room using gun powder and shrapnel packed into pressure cookers” to explode at an undisclosed restaurant popular with soldiers.
Abdo was charged Friday with possession of an unregistered destructive device. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.