A college student from Saudi Arabia who studied chemical engineering in Texas bought explosive chemicals online as part of a plan to hide bomb materials inside dolls and baby carriages to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Dallas home of former US President George W. Bush, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.
Twenty-year-old Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari wrote in his private journal that he had been planning an attack in the US, even before traveling there on a scholarship. He said he was influenced by Osama bin Laden’s speeches and that he bemoaned the plight of Muslims.
“After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad,” Aldawsari wrote, according to court documents.
One of the chemical companies, Carolina Biological Supply, reported US$435 in suspicious orders by Aldawsari to the FBI on Feb. 1.
Separately, Con-way Freight, the shipping company, notified Lubbock police and the FBI the same day with similar suspicions because it appeared the order was not intended for commercial use.
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 e-mail accounts and read his diary, according to court records.
TNP, the chemical explosive that Aldawsari was suspected of trying to make, has approximately the same destructive power as TNT.
FBI bomb experts said the amounts in the Aldawsari case would have yielded almost 15 pounds of explosive. That is about the same amount used per bomb in the London subway attacks that killed scores of people in July 2005.
Aldawsari, who was legally in the US on a student visa, was expected to appear in federal court yesterday. He was charged on Thursday with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Aldawsari entered the US in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University. He transferred this year to nearby South Plains College, where he was studying business. A Saudi industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying his tuition and living -expenses in the US.
“He was quiet. I thought he was a good guy,” said Ahmid Obaidan, a senior at Tennessee State University who also is from Saudi Arabia and met Aldawsari in Tennessee, when Aldawsari was studying at an English language center at Vanderbilt University.
It was not immediately clear whether Aldawsari had hired a lawyer. Telephone numbers that he provided to others were not working on Thursday. No one answered the buzzer or a knock on the door at the address listed as Aldawsari’s apartment, just one block from the Texas Tech campus in an area where many students live.
The terrorism case outlined in court documents was significant because it suggests that radicalized foreigners can live quietly in the US without raising suspicions from neighbors, classmates, teachers or others.
However, it also showed how quickly US law enforcement can move when tipped that a terrorist plot may be unfolding.
The White House said US President Barack Obama was notified about the plot before 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.