A college student from Saudi Arabia studying chemical engineering in Texas has been arrested by the FBI for allegedly planning a terrorist attack on U.S. targets using explosive chemicals.
Khalid Aldawsari, who is legally in the U.S. on a student visa, allegedly targeted the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush. He was arrested late Tuesday on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
“Yesterday’s arrest demonstrates the need for and the importance of vigilance and the willingness of private individuals and companies to ask questions and contact the authorities when confronted with suspicious activities,” said James T. Jacks, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.
Aldawsari, 20, entered the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study at Texas Tech University, then transferred earlier this year to nearby South Plains College.
Federal prosecutors say Aldawsari had been researching online how to construct an improvised explosive device using several chemicals as ingredients. Authorities say Aldawsari's diary indicated the young man had been plotting an attack for years and obtained a scholarship so he could come directly to the United State to carry out jihad.
"After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad," the student wrote in his journal, according to court documents.
In e-mails Aldawsari apparently sent himself, he listed the names of 12 reservoir dams in Colorado and California. He also wrote an e-mail that mentioned "Tyrant's House" with the address of President Bush's home. The FBI's affidavit said he considered using infant dolls to hide explosives and was possibly targeting a nightclub with a backpack filled with explosives.
The White House said President Barack Obama was notified about the plot prior to Aldawsari's arrest 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 Thursday.
One of the chemical companies, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., reported suspicious purchases by the student to the FBI on Feb. 1. Within weeks, federal agents had traced his 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.
The FBI said the North Carolina company reported the attempts to purchase 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. But frustrated by questions, Aldawsari canceled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol. Prosecutors said that in December 2010, he successfully purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids that are combined to make TNP.
“As alleged in the complaint, Aldawsari purchased ingredients to construct an explosive device and was actively researching potential targets in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of many agents, analysts and prosecutors, this plot was thwarted before it could advance further,” said Assistant Attorney General Kris. “This case serves as another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad.”
Aldawsari is expected to appear in federal court in Lubbock on Friday morning. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.