Terrorism Trials & Investigations

Is it Harder to Charge Lone Wolves than Conspirators? The Naser Abdo Indictment

By Robert Chesney
Wednesday, August 10, 2011, 6:33 PM

A grand jury yesterday returned an indictment in the case of Naser Abdo, the guy recently arrested in connection with an alleged bomb plot in relation to Killeen (the same guy who shouted “Major Nidal Hassan 2009!” in the courtroom after his arrest).  I assume there will be a superseding indictment at some point, as this first iteration (yes, I previously posted about an indictment in this case, but that was in fact a criminal complaint) merely charges possession of an unregistered destructive device and posession by a fugitive (remember, he was AWOL from Fort Campbell) of a firearm & ammo.  That is, there is no charge as yet specific to plotting to bomb Fort Hood personnel or otherwise.  Of course, that’s the tricky thing about the lone wolf scenario: no option to charge conspiracy and hence a bit more trouble in finding the right inchoate offense charge where the arrest occurs early on the spectrum of planning.  Assuming it remains a lone wolf scenario, I suppose the question is whether prosecutors are having trouble convincing themselves, or the grand jury, to attach on attempt charge in relation to this particular fact pattern.  In that regard, compare this fact pattern to United States v. Aldawsari, which involved another lone wolf bomb plot (a former student at Texas Tech who allegedly was planning to set off a bomb), in that case charged as an attempt under 18 USC 2332a.  I posted here about the preventive charging issue in Aldawsari's case, questioning how early liability can attach in the attempt setting in comparison to the conspiracy setting.  A number of folks whom I talked to subsequently took the view that attempt is far more capacious that is commonly assumed, and that I might be overstating the distinction.  Perhaps Abdo's case will put this to the test as well?

If prosecutors cannot add additional charges, note that these charges expose Abdo to a mere ten years in prison.  In any event, here is the press release in Abdo’s case:

WACO, Texas -- U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy and FBI Special Agent in Charge Cory B. Nelson announced that a federal grand jury seated in Waco returned an indictment this afternoon charging 21-year-old Naser Jason Abdo with possession of an unregistered destructive device as well as possession of a firearm and ammunition by a fugitive from justice.

The three-count indictment specifically alleges that on July 27, 2011, Abdo was in possession of a destructive device not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record as well as a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol and 20-gauge shot shells while being a fugitive from justice.

According to court records, officers with the Killeen, Texas, Police Department arrested Abdo on July 27, 2011.  At the time of his arrest, the defendant, an AWOL soldier from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was in possession of the handgun plus instructions on how to build a bomb as well as bomb making components, including six bottles of smokeless gunpowder, shotgun shells, shotgun pellets, two clocks, two spools of auto wire, an electric drill and two pressure cookers. Court documents also allege that Abdo intended to use the materials to assemble two destructive devices with the intention of detonating them inside an unspecified restaurant frequented by soldiers from Fort Hood.

Abdo remains in federal custody.  If convicted, he faces up to ten years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine per count.