BELTON — A man threatened to detonate a bomb at a Bell County courthouse Wednesday unless officials met the demands of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
The Belton Police Department received a call from a man who said he would detonate an explosive device “if Hasan doesn’t get what he asks for,” according to a statement from Bell County Judge Jon Burrows.
The threat forced the evacuation of the Justice Center Complex on Loop 121 and the County Courthouse in downtown Belton.
Authorities from the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and Killeen Police Department swept the complex with bomb-sniffing dogs but didn’t find an explosive device, Bell County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Donnie Adams said.
Adams said Hasan had not made any specific demands to jail staff. Fort Hood officials referred all inquiries to the Belton Police Department, which is the lead investigative agency for the incident.
Belton city spokesman Paul Romer said he would not elaborate beyond confirming a nonspecific threat to protect the integrity of the investigation.
The threat comes after Hasan was dealt recent legal defeats in a Fort Hood court. A military judge ruled against Hasan’s planned defense strategy Friday and denied his request for a three-month delay to the start of his death-penalty trial Tuesday.
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist wanted to use a “defense of others” strategy, claiming the Fort Hood shooting was done to protect the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The threatening phone call lasted less than 30 seconds, and mentioned a time frame when a bomb would detonate. The deadline passed before law enforcement finished their sweep, Romer said.
In response to the threat, the county will conduct security sweeps at facilities before and during business hours. Officials also asked for employees to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, according to a security update issued by Burrows and Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange.
For about two hours, many county employees stayed at the Bell County Expo Center, while others took a long lunch break.
It created annoyances for some at the courthouse.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” 264th District Court Judge Martha Trudo said.
Trudo had just sent a jury to lunch while lawyers worked to wrap up a trial when she learned of the evacuation. Jurors returned to find the courthouse blocked off by law enforcement.
The justice complex includes numerous courtrooms and the Bell County Jail, which houses Hasan and hundreds of other inmates. Guards placed inmates on lockdown while the facility was swept.
Employees were able to return at 1:30 p.m.
Investigators from Fort Hood, BCSD and the Justice Department’s Joint Terrorism Task Force are assisting in the investigation.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553