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Jurors hear from witnesses, recordings in Abdo case

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TWC News: Jurors hear from witnesses, recordings in Abdo case
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An AWOL Fort Campbell soldier accused plotting to detonate a bomb inside a Killeen restaurant filled with Fort Hood soldiers was back in court Wednesday.

Ten witnesses took the stand Wednesday in the trial for Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo who is accused of planning to bomb an unidentified Chinese restaurant in Killeen during lunch time when it is filled with Fort Hood soldiers.

Abdo was arrested last July, after Killeen Police received a tip from a clerk at Guns Galore. Clerk Greg Ebert testified Wednesday that he called police after a customer's behavior and purchase raised some concerns. Ebert said the man, later identified as Abdo, walked into the store on July 26, 2011 and never took off his sunglasses while inside. According to Ebert, Abdo's behavior combined with the fact that he purchased six pounds of smokeless gun powder, without knowing what it was, led him to call police.

Those concerns eventually reached Killeen Police Sgt. Eric Bradley, who was told that the man left Guns Galore in a cab. Bradley said he began his investigation by calling cab companies in Killeen. Eventually, Bradley found out that the cab had made stops at Surplus City, which is a military surplus store, as well as at America's Best Value Inn. According to Bradley, he went to the hotel that night to try and find someone who matched the description provided by Ebert, but he couldn’t find anyone matching the description before his shift ended.

The following morning, another Killeen Police sergeant followed up with the case and learned that the same man had purchased a full ACU military uniform at Surplus City. Bradley said when he was told about the purchase over the phone, it made him sit up in bed and think, “Somebody was planning something," he said in court. "Somebody was putting something together." Bradley said he immediately got dressed and after failing to track down the man using a cell phone number provided to the cab company, he headed to the America's Best Value Inn to start a canvass.

It was while he was at the hotel looking through surveillance video that another police lieutenant noticed a cab parked outside. The two officers sat and waited in the lobby, when they saw a male with a black backpack walking towards the front entrance. The officers followed him out the front door as he made his way to the cab and stopped him. Bradley said the man turned around and looked at them with a “blank stare” before he was ordered to lay down on the ground. Several detectives who were inside the hotel came outside and handcuffed him. Bradley said they moved the backpack towards some pillars near the front of the hotel because they were concerned that there were explosives in the backpack. Initially, the man provided a Tennessee ID with the name 'Asher Pluto.' According to testimony Tuesday, the ID belonged to Abdo's roommate.

Bradley said Abdo was read his rights, and jurors listened as the prosecution played a video/audio recording taken from a KPD patrol car. On the recording was a conversation between Bradley and Abdo immediately following his arrest. Bradley can be heard asking Abdo where he was from, and whether he had heard about the rampage at Fort Hood. Shortly after, Abdo identifies himself as 'Naser Jason Abdo' an AWOL soldier who received conscientious objector status but was facing child pornography charges. In the recording, Abdo goes on to say that he was planning to pull off an attack at Fort Hood and in Killeen because he “Didn't appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan.”

On the day of the arrest, SFC. Brad Grimes, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician from Fort Hood was called in to examine the black backpack Abdo was carrying at He testified that he took several X-rays of the backpack, and was able to make out several mechanical devices consistent with a clock, wires and computer. Grimes then said he suited up in a bomb suit to go open the backpack, which had been moved to the rear of the hotel. Inside the backpack he said he found a handgun, clocks, a computer and a composition notebook among other things. Inside that notebook he said he found an article titled How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom. Grimes said he determined it was a “viable threat” and informed the other law enforcement agencies of what he found. He waited until a search warrant came through for the hotel room where Abdo was staying. Grimes said once the search warrant came through, he walked up to the room but the door had already been cracked. Inside the room, he testified he found a series of items including two pressure cookers, wires and other materials which he said “placed in concert would complete an explosive device.” Grimes testified that it would take him personally about 30 minutes to complete an explosive device and that the instructions were clear enough to construct an IED.

Grimes was questioned by the defense about whether a complete device was found in either the backpack or inside Abdo's room, to which he replied that a completely working device was not fully assembled. Although Grimes testified that it would only take him personally less than 30 minutes to construct an explosive device with the materials found, the defense pointed out that he was an expert trained specifically in the field of explosives.

Wednesday, jurors also listened to several recordings in court, including a phone call Abdo made to a television reporter in Tennessee. In the recording, Abdo can be heard telling the reporter that he was initially planning to go after a high ranking Fort Campbell official, but he was forced to leave Kentucky because he felt that his chain of command was onto him and would stop him from “carrying out his mission.” He said he ended up in Killeen, in the Fort Hood area because he wanted to remind people of the similarities of what Nidal Hasan tried to do. Abdo referred to Maj. Nidal Hasan, a Fort Hood soldier who stands accused of going on a shooting rampage on post on Nov. 5, 2009. The shooting left 13 people dead and more than 30 injured. Abdo told the reporter that the “Army blew off Nidal Hasan who simply wanted out like I did.” He had a message for Hasan, “I would say wait...I'm waiting with you.”

Abdo had applied and was approved for conscientious objector status, based on his faith because he was Muslim. However, because he faced child pornography charges, he could not be discharged.

Another recording included video and audio from a jail visit Abdo received from his mother at the end of July. In the recording, Abdo asks his mother what they are saying about him in the press, and whether his case has received national attention. During the conversation, his mother made numerous attempts to understand what led her son down this path. At one point Abdo said. “The reason is religion mom.” He went on to say, “When bad things are happening, you have to do something about it.” In the recording, he tried to explain to his mother that millions had died at the hands of policy that's not in the best interest of the U.S. When asked by his mother whether he had lost his mind, he replied by saying “it may seem crazy from the outside, but it's not.”

Abdo is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction among other charges. During opening statements, the prosecution told jurors Abdo was within hours from successfully completing construction of an IED, which he plotted to plant and detonate inside an unidentified Chinese restaurant in Killeen frequented by Fort Hood soldiers.

However, the defense told the jury that all of the items that Abdo possessed when he was arrested, and the materials inside his hotel room were all legally purchased, and the government could not prove an attempt was made or a device was built. In their opening statement, the defense attorney used an analogy of attempting suicide by knife.

He said just the purchase of the knife does not end up being an attempted suicide. He said the attempt does not happen until you take the knife and cut.

Proceedings are expected to start again Thursday at 9 a.m.

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