WACO, Texas (AP) — A soldier accused of planning to bomb Fort Hood troops in a restaurant last summer wore a mask in court for the first time Monday as a jury was selected in his federal trial.
Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, who has been accused of spitting blood on authorities escorting him, wore an oval mask over his nose and mouth. Several U.S. marshals seated near him in the Texas courtroom wore protective glasses.
Abdo, a Muslim soldier who was AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky., is accused of planning to bomb a restaurant in Killeen that was filled with soldiers from nearby Fort Hood and then shoot any survivors.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and five other charges. Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Waco, about 50 miles northeast of Killeen. Abdo, 22, is not being tried in military court.
His lead defense attorney, Zachary Boyd, referred to the mask while questioning potential jurors Monday.
"I have a concern. My client looks a little different today because he has a mask on," Boyd said, then asking if they had a problem with Abdo's mask. Nobody raised a hand.
The soldier has been accused of biting through his lip and spitting blood on a deputy U.S. marshal and a sheriff's deputy who were escorting him after a court hearing last month. Officials reported a previous blood-spitting incident on a jailer.
McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch said he couldn't comment on why Abdo was wearing a mask in court, and a gag order prevents attorneys from discussing anything about the case publicly.
Boyd also asked potential jurors if they would "hold it against my client for being a Muslim," and no hands were raised.
Killeen police began investigating Abdo after an employee from Guns Galore called July 26, saying a young man bought six pounds of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semiautomatic pistol — while seeming to know little about his purchases, according to previous court testimony and documents. Officers also learned that he bought a U.S. Army uniform and a "Smith" name patch from another store but didn't know his unit, according to testimony.
After officers tracked Abdo to a motel near one of the Army post's gates, they detained him July 27. Authorities who searched his backpack and motel room say they found a handgun, ingredients for an explosive device and an article titled, "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom." An article with that title appears in an al-Qaida magazine.
"I was planning an attack here in the Fort Hood community because I don't appreciate what my unit did in Afghanistan," he can be heard telling a detective in a patrol car recording, played at a court hearing last month.
Abdo told authorities he planned to make two bombs and detonate them in a restaurant frequented by Fort Hood soldiers, according to documents in the case.
While jailed in Waco last fall, Abdo told a Nashville, Tenn., television station that he originally planned to kidnap and videotape the "execution" of a high-ranking Fort Campbell official "who participated in the Afghan mission" — but fled after military police learned he was visiting nearby gun stores.
He went AWOL from the Kentucky Army post over the Fourth of July weekend, about two months after he was charged with possessing child pornography, which put his conscientious objector status on hold.
Abdo, who was born in Texas and grew up in a Dallas suburb, 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.
In that essay, which he sent to The Associated Press in 2010, Abdo said acts like the 2009 Fort Hood shootings "run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim" and were "an act of aggression by a man and not by Islam."
Follow Angela K. Brown on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AngelaKBrownAP