A Jordanian man living outside Dallas and an ex-convict who wrote letters to John Walker Lindh were in custody on Friday after each tried to blow up what they thought were vehicles packed with explosives outside a Texas skyscraper and an Illinois courthouse, authorities said.
The two cases are unconnected to each other and to the investigation that set off the most intense flurry of national terrorism warnings since the aftermath of Sept. 11, authorities said.
Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, 19, who is a Jordanian national, appeared in court Friday in Dallas after federal officials said he parked what he thought was an explosive-laden truck in a parking garage beneath the 60-story Fountain Place office tower.
Smadi mostly looked down as he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, and when asked whether he understood his rights, he softly answered, "Yes."
Michael C. Finton, 29, who also went by the name Talib Islam and idolized Lindh — the American-born Taliban fighter — was arrested Wednesday in Springfield, Ill., after federal officials said he attempted to detonate what he believed to be explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse in the Illinois capital.
In both cases, decoy devices were provided to the men by FBI agents posing as Al Qaeda operatives. Both are charged with trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction and face up to life in prison if convicted. Finton also is charged with attempting to murder federal officers or employees.
Smadi, who federal prosecutors said lived and worked in the north central Texas town of Italy, came to the United States in 2007 with his brother, Hussein, on student visas, their father Maher Hussein Smadi told The Associated Press in Jordan.
The father said Hussein Smadi, 18, was arrested in California, but would not elaborate. That arrest could not immediately be confirmed by officials in the U.S.
"The issue is completely fabricated and in our family we never condoned terrorism," the father said.
Richard Anderson, the public defender appointed to Smadi in Dallas, said after Friday's hearing that he had "little to say" until he figures out more about the case. He said his client is scared and has no family nearby.
The FBI had been keeping tabs on Smadi since an undercover agent discovered him in an online extremist group, according to an affidavit in the case.
Undercover agents communicated and met with Smadi over several months, posing as members of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell, the affidavit said. The agents provided Smadi with what he believed was a car bomb but was actually an inert device, it said.
Smadi on Thursday parked a vehicle containing the device in a garage beneath the Dallas office tower and set the device's timer, the affidavit said. Smadi then met with an agent, who drove several blocks away and Smadi dialed a cell phone in an attempt to detonate the bomb, according to the affidavit, which said he picked the Fountain Place because it housed banks.
A similar scenario played out the day before in Illinois. Finton also had been closely monitored by federal agents including in the months leading up to his arrest, according to an affidavit in that case.
It said an FBI agent who posed as an Al Qaeda operative presented Finton on Wednesday with a van containing materials he described as explosive but which actually were harmless.
The two men parked the van at the courthouse and close to the office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., which Finton allegedly hoped also would be damaged. They then drove a short distance to where Finton twice used a cell phone to try to detonate the explosives, the affidavit said. He was arrested immediately.
The affidavit traced two years of activities by Finton. It said Finton's parole on a previous conviction was revoked in August 2007 and writings found at the time included reference to a letter to Lindh, who is now in prison.
Public records show Finton was in an Illinois prison from 1999 until 2005 aggravated robbery and aggravated battery convictions. After getting out, Finton told his parole officer he had converted to Islam, the affidavit said.
Finton appeared in federal court in Springfield on Thursday and said he was an unmarried, part-time cook at a fish and chicken restaurant in the central Illinois city of Decatur. A message was left for his attorney, federal defender Robert Scherschlight.
Both Finton and Smadi were ordered held in jail pending further hearings.
Authorities said the Texas and Illinois cases are not connected to that of Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver who federal officials allege received explosives training from Al Qaeda and bought large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and nail-polish remover in a plot to build bombs for attacks on U.S. soil.