Another loner, following his own faith?

So what do we really know, at this point, about Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo and his attempted attack on Ft. Hood? Well we do know this.

Abdo -- Muslim: from Arabic abduh "his servant", i.e. "his (Allah's) servant." Abduh is one of the epithets of the Prophet Muhammad.

We know that, in the U.S. military, he self-identified as a Muslim.

We know that, in addition to his weapons and bomb-making materials, investigators said Abdo had an article -- from the Summer 2010 issue of "Inspire," an English-language al-Qaeda publication -- entitled, "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom."

We know that, when applying for conscientious objector status in 2010, he argued that his Islamic faith would prohibit him from fighting in a war while serving in the U.S. Army. In particular, Abdo argued that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan violated his beliefs.

We also know that he was on the verge of being discharged as a conscientious objector, but that this was derailed when he was charged with possession of child pornography.

Then, the other day, the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream media organizations offered reports that went something like this:

The suspect accused of planning an attack on Ft. Hood soldiers had holed up in a motel room in Killeen this week, authorities said, with a 40-caliber handgun, a cache of bomb-making ingredients and a plan to make this military city ache all over again.

Instead, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo appeared ... in U.S. District Court in Waco. There, the army private shouted his inspiration for what authorities say was a plot to set off two bombs at a popular restaurant outside the sprawling Ft. Hood military base.

"Nidal Hasan -- Ft. Hood 2009!" he said, a defiant reference to the army major and psychiatrist and fellow Muslim who is charged with killing 13 people at the base nearly two years ago.

So at this point, what do we not know about this man? What do we urgently need to know?

For one thing, we know that he has self-identified as a Muslim. We do not know, however, if he has practiced this faith in any meaningful way. Other than an al-Qaeda magazine, we do not know if he has been reading anything that might link him to any form of Islamic network, congregation or school of thought.

The following paragraph the Los Angeles Times article struck he as especially interesting:

When authorities arrested Abdo ... at the motel, court papers said, they found 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, with some of the items in his backpack.

What is missing from this list, at least as offered by military authorities or the editors at the Times? Was he, for example, carrying a copy of the Koran? A mat to use during prayers?

In other words, is there any way to know if this man was following his faith in any meaningful way? Was he, in effect, another troubled loner who was living out his own version of Islam? Was he connected to any particular imam or congregation? To any particular approach to the faith, in the mainstream or on the radical fringe?

These fact-based, journalistic questions may sound familiar to GetReligion readers, as of late.

You see, the goal is to dig deeper than mere labels, even if this conflicted and possibly disturbed man pinned that label on himself. Does this kind of journalistic digging matter and, if so, to whom? Back to the Los Angeles Times report:

"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.

Note the word "claimed" in that piece of the story. That's an important word.

So is the word "practiced," when it is backed with strong, factual reporting. Once again, it is time to keep looking for the facts. Mere labels are not enough.

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