Saturday, February 26, 2011
ADAM GOLDMAN, Associated Press,
BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press
San Antonio Express-News
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, is shown in this undated photo made available by the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. The Justice Department said Thursday that the student from Saudi Arabia studying chemical engineering in Texas purchased explosive chemicals over the Internet 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 President George W. Bush. Photo: Lubbock County Sheriff / AP
Separately, Con-way Freight, the shipping company, notified Lubbock police and the FBI the same day with similar suspicions because it appeared the order wasn’t intended for commercial use. Within weeks, federal agents had traced Aldawsari’s other online purchases, discovered extremist posts he made on the Internet and secretly searched his apartment, computer and e-mail accounts and read his diary, according to court records.
Neighbors in Lubbock said they didn’t remember seeing Aldawsari but noticed an unusual number of people in the hallway the day of his arrest.
"That’s so scary," said Sally Dierschke, a 21-year-old senior at Texas Tech. "That’s my neighbor. … Of course, I’m scared."
Ahmid Obaidan, a senior at Tennessee State University who also is from Saudi Arabia, met Aldawsari in Nashville, Tennessee, when Aldawsari was studying at an English language center at Vanderbilt University.
"He was quiet. I thought he was a good guy," Obaidan said.
The FBI said the North Carolina company reported the attempts to purchase 1.3 gallons (4.9 liters) 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. Frustrated by questions, Aldawsari canceled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol, the documents say.
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 (6.8 kilograms) of explosive. That’s about the same amount used per bomb in the London subway attacks that killed scores of people in July 2005.
Prosecutors said that in December, he bought 30 liters 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.
A Saudi industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying Aldawsari’s tuition and living expenses in the U.S.
Casey declined to go into why the arrest occurred when it did.
"We just felt it was the right time," he said.
Goldman reported from Washington.
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