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US soldier held in new Texas base 'terror plot'

29 july 2011, 13:10
0
US Army soldier Naser Jason Abdo. ©AFP
US Army soldier Naser Jason Abdo. ©AFP
Texas police arrested a US soldier Thursday mounting what they called a "terror plot" against Fort Hood, the military base where a fellow serviceman went on a deadly shooting rampage in 2009, AFP reports.

Army private Naser Jason Abdo, who gave several television interviews last year saying he was a Muslim who opposed deployment to Afghanistan, became the target of suspicion after a gun shop owner noticed his unusual purchases of weapons and tipped off police.

Police tracked down the 21-year-old to a motel near Fort Hood and arrested him Wednesday afternoon, police said. A Texas native, Abdo served at Fort Campbell in Kentucky but had deserted since July 4. He had gone AWOL since early this month after being charged with possessing child pornography.

"I would classify this as a terror plot," said Dennis Baldwin, the police chief of Killeen, Texas, located next to Fort Hood.

"We have interviewed him and the information as a result of the interview and other leads... leads us to believe that military personnel were targeted," Baldwin told reporters, adding that the suspect acted alone.

"I can tell you that we would probably be here today giving you a different briefing if he had not been stopped."

He called the suspect "very dangerous" and noted he had only been in Killeen for a "relatively short period of time."

Federal charges were expected to be filed.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera last year, Abdo said he had asked for permission not to deploy to Afghanistan as a conscientious objector because he did not want to fight fellow Muslims. The network said he was of Palestinian descent.

"I can't both deploy and be a Muslim," Abdo said in that interview. He was subsequently granted his request to avoid deployment to Afghanistan.

Speaking to CNN's sister network HLN in August, he said: "I was under the impression that I could serve both the US Army and my God simultaneously."

"As the time had come near to deployment, I started really asking myself and taking the question more seriously whether God would accept what I was doing and whether I was really meant to go to war as opposed to the peace that Islam preaches," he added.

Fort Hood -- a major army base home to the III Corps, the First Cavalry Division and the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment -- has been on edge since a November 9, 2009 shooting spree by an Army psychiatrist.

Major Nidal Hasan, who was set to deploy to Afghanistan, calmly walked into a deployment center and cried "Allahu Akbar!" -- or "God is Greatest!" -- before methodically shooting 45 people, most of them soldiers, according to officials.

Twelve soldiers and one civilian died before police stopped Hasan by shooting him four times, paralyzing him from the chest down. Hasan goes on trial March 5 and faces the death penalty if convicted.

The motive of that shooting remains a matter of dispute. But investigators allege that Hasan, born in the United States of Palestinian heritage, had contact with key Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US citizen at large in Yemen.

Officials said that Abdo went to the same store, Guns Galore, where Hasan had bought weapons used in the deadly attack.

An employee of the store said he contacted police after Abdo bought gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic handgun.

Greg Ebert, a retired soldier and veteran law enforcement officer, said he grew suspicious after the soldier purchased six canisters of smokeless gunpowder but asked questions about what it was.

"I'm a retired police officer. I spent my entire adult life observing other human beings and good bad, and otherwise, when that little voice starts talking to me, I pay attention," said Ebert, who retired last year as a Killeen police sergeant in charge of property crimes.

"You're talking about a white male in his 20s, very nondescript, walks in here and wants to purchase six pounds of gunpowder and then he asks the manager, 'Well, what is smokeless gunpowder?' Wouldn't that raise an issue in your mind?"

The man, who "just seemed to be an odd sort of person" according to Ebert, entered Guns Galore early afternoon Tuesday in a cab and appeared to be in a hurry. He paid $250 in cash for the gunpowder and ammunition but didn't ask for the change, leaving his receipt on the counter.

Ebert said he sold the gunpowder and weapons despite his suspicions because "it was odd that he didn't have a better understanding of gunpowder, but that by itself doesn't mean he's up to no good. He hadn't done anything illegal, there was nothing unlawful with regard to the sale."

Representative John Carter, a Republican whose congressional district includes Fort Hood, issued a statement hailing Ebert for tipping off police.

"Thanks to quick action by a Texas gun dealer in alerting local police to a suspicious character, and a prompt and vigorous response by the Killeen police department, we may well have averted a repeat of the tragic 2009 radical Islamic terror attack on our nation's largest military installation," he said.

Fort Hood spokesman Tom Rheinlander said the military was ensuring safety at the base but declined to explain security measures.

"I think Fort Hood officials are taking due diligence for any such incident that occurs outside the gate or outside Fort Hood that might have an impact on Fort Hood, and appropriate force protection measures are taken if necessary," he said.


By Sig Christenson

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