Digital Version of January/February 2015 Print Edition
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Saudi man who targeted President Bush in U.S. WMD attack convicted
A Saudi Arabian man who attended college in Texas and had collected explosive chemicals in a plan to carry out attacks on nuclear plants, U.S. Army personnel or former President George W. Bush now faces life in prison after a jury convicted him of trying to use a weapon of mass destruction.
A federal jury convicted Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 22, a citizen of Saudi Arabia and resident of Lubbock, TX, on one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in connection with his purchase of chemicals and equipment necessary to make an improvised explosive device (IED) and his research of potential U.S. targets, including people and infrastructure. Press reports said the federal jury in Amarilllo, TX, took only a little over two hours to reach its verdict.
Aldawsari came to the U.S. on a student visa in 2008. He had enrolled at Texas Tech University for chemical engineering and transferred to South Plains College near Lubbock.
According to press reports at the time of his arrest in February, 2011, he admired the U.S. when he arrived, but became increasingly radicalized while in the country.
He was charged with buying chemicals and equipment to make an IED and planning to use it on high profile targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush. According to the government’s evidence presented at trial, he also had the names and home addresses of three American citizens who had served in the U.S. military and had been stationed for a time at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The evidence also showed he was interested in 12 reservoir dams in Colorado and California, as well as hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants. The evidence also showed he had conducted research with an aim of using explosives-laden infant dolls hidden in a backpack and had considered leaving a bomb hidden in a backpack at a nightclub.
Aldawsari’s plans came to light after a chemical supplier and a freight company noticed his unusual activities and reported him to authorities. Those companies told the FBI that Aldawsari had tried to purchase and ship large quantities of concentrated phenol to himself. Phenol can also be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as T.N.P., or picric acid, according to the affidavit, adding that typically concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids are combined with phenol to make the explosive. The original affidavit said Aldawsari had successfully purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids in December 2010.
Reports said FBI bomb experts estimated the amounts of chemicals Aldawsari had obtained would have yielded almost 15 pounds of explosive, which is about the same amount used in each bomb used in the 2005 London subway attacks.
He faces a life in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in October.
According to the government’s trial evidence, he had asked the chemical company, Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, NC, to have the phenol order sent to a a freight company so it could be held for him there. The freight company, Lubbock-based Conway Freight, however, told him that the order had been returned to the supplier and called the police. Later, he falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for “off-campus, personal research.” Frustrated by questions being asked over his phenol order, Aldawsari cancelled it and placed another order with different company, later e-mailing himself instructions for producing phenol.
According to the evidence, he also used various e-mail accounts in researching explosives and targets and often sent e-mails to himself as part of that process. He e-mailed himself a recipe for picric acid, which was described in the e-mail as a “military explosive” and also e-mailed himself instructions on how to convert a cell phone into a remote detonator and how to prepare a booby-trapped vehicle using household items. Aldawsari had also purchased a Hazmat suit, a soldering iron kit, glass beakers and flasks, a stun gun, clocks, and a battery tester.
Excerpts from a journal found at his residence and presented in the government’s case, showed he had been planning to commit a terrorist attack in the U.S. for years. In one entry Aldawsari described how he sought and obtained a particular scholarship because it allowed him to come directly to the U.S. and helped him financially, which he said “will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad.” The entry continues, “And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.”
In another entry, he wrote he was near his goal and close to getting weapons to use against infidels and their helpers. He also listed a “synopsis of important steps” that included obtaining a forged U.S. birth certificate; renting a car; using different driver’s licenses for each car rented; putting bombs in cars and taking them to different places during rush hour; and leaving the city for a safe place.