Reporting Jack Fink
LUBBOCK (CBSDFW.COM) – The Saudi national who has been accused of plotting a terrorist attack made his first appearance in court on Friday morning. Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari was arrested late Wednesday night in Lubbock. He had nothing to say as he walked into the courtroom under heavily armed guards.
In court, when asked by Judge Nancy Koenig if he understood the charge against him – attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction – Aldawsari said “yes” in a soft voice. The suspect did not require a translator and understood English.
Court documents show that Aldawsari came into the country on a student visa in 2008. He was currently enrolled at South Plains College near Lubbock and listed as a General Studies major. Aldawsari had also been a student at Texas Tech University and previously studied at the Vanderbilt English Language Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
The judge announced that the Saudi kingdom had its consulate contact Aldawsari while in custody.
According to the FBI, one of the 20-year-old suspect’s alleged targets was the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush — which he referred to by address as “tyrant’s house” in an e-mail sent on February 6. Documents also state that he may have tried to attack cars in and around New York City, nuclear reactors, three former American soldiers who were stationed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and an unspecified Dallas nightclub. Another e-mail listed 12 reservoir dams in both California and Colorado as “nice targets.”
Aldawsari was reported to the FBI by a North Carolina chemical company, which became suspicious after he ordered a toxic chemical called Phenol — a key ingredient in making a particular explosive. “We were able to get the shipment returned,” Jim Parrish of Carolina Biological Supply told CBS affiliate WFMY-TV. “Mr. Aldawsari never received the shipment.”
Still, Aldawsari has been accused of acquiring most of the items required to contruct an improvised explosive device. FBI agents found nitric and sulfuric acids, wiring, beakers, flasks, a hazmat suit and a clock in the suspect’s apartment. And court documents state that he had been researching ways to conceal bombs within infant dolls and backpacks.
A journal believed to belong to Aldawsari included an extremist entry that said, “After mastering the English language and learning how to build explosives to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad.”
The FBI said that Aldawsari acted alone, and is not affiliated with a known terrorist group. “It got to a certain point where we were very concerned about imminent harm, and that’s why we decided to make the arrest,” said FBI agent Robert Casey.
Aldawsari is scheduled to return to court on March 11 for a detention hearing, to determine whether or not he will remain in custody while under trial. He will also have a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause for a trial. If convicted, Aldawsari faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Rod Hobson is the attorney representing Aldawsari in court. He released a statement that said, “I have been retained by Mr. Aldawsari to represent him on this case. As an accused person, Mr. Aldawsari is presumed innocent. He has entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ to these charges. The court will set this matter for trial at a later date. One of the things that makes this country the envy of the world is our legal system, with its focus of fairness. Up to this point, the press coverage has been very one-sided and biased. This may make it difficult for Mr. Aldawsari to receive a fair trial in Lubbock. This is not “Alice in Wonderland,” where the Queen said, ‘First the punishment, then the trial.’ This is America, where everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, due process, effective representation of counsel and a fair trial. I request that everyone take a step back and allow the legal proceedings to unfold in a timely and orderly fashion. The eyes of the world are on this case and the treatment of this accused person. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world how truly fair our legal system is, even to those who are accused of trying to harm our country.”