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FBI charges Saudi in alleged terrorism plot

Arrested in Texas, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari was planning to blow up dams in California and Colorado and former President George W. Bush's home, the FBI says.

February 24, 2011|By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The FBI has arrested a young Saudi citizen in Texas who was allegedly amassing bomb components for a string of attacks on a dozen hydroelectric and reservoir dams in California and Colorado and former President George W. Bush's home in Dallas, which he disparaged as the "tyrant's house."

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who attended a community college near Lubbock, Texas, and allegedly kept a detailed journal outlining plans for attacks, was charged with attempting to build and use a weapon of mass destruction.

Aldawsari, 20, described nuclear power plants as "nice targets" and collected the names and home addresses of three former U.S. military officers from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where inmates were tortured and humiliated by their American guards, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday.

Aldawsari described on his "fromfaraway90" blog his journey to the Texas Panhandle on a financial scholarship and student visa, "providing me with the support I need for jihad," the FBI said.

Mark White, an FBI special agent in Dallas, said in a telephone interview that authorities did not believe Aldawsari was sent here by Al Qaeda or another terrorist organization, nor did they believe he was radicalized by foreign terrorists or a local mosque after he arrived in the U.S. in September 2008.

"We do not see him associated to anybody, and we are not looking for anyone else at this point," White said. "But this was not just some kid who thought he would get some chemicals. This guy was training and he knew what was needed to create a bomb. He had the capability to do it, and had already bought sulfuric and nitric acids."

Aldawsari fits the "lone wolf" profile seen in recent months of terrorism suspects who blended into communities in Baltimore, Washington and Portland, Ore.

He learned English, rented a one-bedroom apartment and purchased a 2006 silver Hyundai Sonata in Oklahoma. He attended Texas Tech University, then switched this semester to South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, and took chemical engineering classes.

Although the other suspects were tripped up by FBI informants or undercover agents, Aldawsari's arrest can be tied to a Feb. 1 telephone call from a company in Burlington, N.C.

Jim Parrish, president and chief executive of Carolina Biological Supply Co., said that in late January Aldawsari attempted to purchase phenol, a chemical routinely used in college-level organic chemistry classes. "One day after shipping the product, we became aware that the order was suspicious," he said. "We immediately notified the FBI and ordered the product returned to us."

Ten 500-millimeter bottles of 80%-concentration phenol, which can be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, had been bought for $434.57 on Aldawsari's debit card, and were to have arrived via FedEx.

FBI Special Agent Michael N. Orndorff said in the affidavit that he asked a company employee to call Aldawsari, who told them that he wanted the phenol for "off-campus, personal research."

Next, Orndorff said, he phoned Aldawsari, pretending to be another company employee, and Aldawsari said "he was conducting research into cleaners which contained phenol for the purpose of reducing their odor." He said he hoped the research would get him into a larger university.

Aldawsari phoned the company back, complaining of his "frustration and displeasure" and hinting that he would obtain the phenol somewhere else.

Two searches of Aldawsari's apartment, the affidavit said, turned up sulfuric and nitric acids; glass beakers and flasks; wiring from miniature Christmas tree lights; a hazmat suit and gas mask; a 3.2-million-volt stun gun; a battery tester; and an Elgin alarm clock. Some of the items were purchased on

The FBI also reviewed his blog and e-mails, most of which Orndorff said Aldawsari sent to himself as notes. He allegedly considered hiding some bombs in the necks of dolls, then placing the toys in rental cars to be detonated by remote control during rush hour.

Aldawsari believed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought about a "big change" in his thinking, and he was "inspired by the speeches of Osama bin Laden," Orndorff said.

In one blog posting, the affidavit said, Aldawsari promised, "After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad."

Arrested late Wednesday, he is to appear Friday in federal court in Lubbock. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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