LUBBOCK, Texas — A U.S. college student from Saudi Arabia purchased explosive chemicals over the Internet as part of a plan to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, the Justice Department said Thursday.
Officials alleged that 20-year-old Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who studied chemical engineering in Texas, planned to hide the bomb materials inside dolls and baby carriages.
“After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad,” the student wrote in his journal, according to court documents.
One of the chemical companies, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, North Carolina, reported suspicious purchases by Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, of Lubbock, Texas, to the FBI on Feb. 1. Within weeks, federal agents had traced his other online purchases, discovered extremist posts he made on the Internet and secretly searched his off-campus apartment, computer and email accounts and read his diary, according to court records.
Aldawsari, who was legally in the U.S. on a student visa, was expected to appear in federal court on Friday. He was charged Thursday with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Aldawsari entered the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University, then transferred earlier this year to nearby South Plains College, where he was studying business. A Saudi-based industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying his tuition and living expenses in the U.S.
It was not immediately clear whether Aldawsari had hired an attorney. Phone numbers that Aldawsari had provided to others were not working Thursday.
The terrorism case outlined in court documents was significant because it suggests that radicalized foreigners can live quietly in the U.S. heartland without raising suspicions from neighbours, classmates, teachers or others. But it also showed how quickly U.S. law enforcement can move when tipped that a terrorist plot may be unfolding.
The White House said President Barack Obama was notified about the plot prior to Aldawsari’s arrest on Wednesday. “This arrest once again underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism here and abroad,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement.
Bush spokesman David Sherzer said: “We’ve seen the reports. I would just refer you for comment to law enforcement.”
In emails Aldawsari apparently sent himself, he listed 12 reservoir dams in Colorado and California. He also wrote an email that mentioned “Tyrant’s House” with the address of Bush’s home. The FBI’s affidavit said he considered using infant dolls to hide explosives and was possibly targeting a nightclub with a backpack filled with explosives.
Aldawsari was using several email accounts. One email message traced to him described instructions to convert a cellphone into a remote detonator. Another listed the names and home addresses of three American citizens who had previously served in the U.S. military and had been stationed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The FBI said the North Carolina company reported the attempts to purchase just over one-tenth of one gallon of phenol, a chemical that can be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as TNP, or picric acid. Aldawsari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for “off-campus, personal research,” according to court records. But frustrated by questions, Aldawsari cancelled his order and later emailed himself instructions for producing phenol.
Prosecutors said that earlier, in December 2010, he successfully purchased 30 litres of concentrated nitric acid for about $450 from QualiChem Technologies in Georgia, and three gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid that are combined to make TNP. The FBI later found the chemicals in Aldawsari’s apartment as well as beakers, flasks, wiring, a Hazmat suit and clocks.
Prosecutors said Aldawsari was inspired by Osama bin Laden speeches and created a blog to publish extremist messages expressing his dismay over current conditions of Muslims and vowing jihad and martyrdom.
“You who created mankind . grant me martyrdom for your sake and make jihad easy for me only in your path,” he wrote, according to court records.
Aldawsari was living one block from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Neighbors said they had never seen him, but noticed people in the hallway the day of the arrest.
Goldman reported from Washington.