LUBBOCK (AP) – Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in the trial of a Saudi man accused of gathering bomb components with the intention of targeting sites across the U.S. including former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home.
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 22, a former Texas Tech University chemical engineering student, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and faces up to life in prison if convicted. Attorneys plan to use an insanity defense, court records show.
Federal agents secretly searched Aldawsari’s apartment in Lubbock, Texas, twice in the days leading up to his arrest in February last year. They say they found almost everything needed to build a bomb, including chemicals, beakers, flasks, wiring, a hazmat suit and clocks, which he had bought online in the previous months.
He had researched targets — including dams, nuclear plants and Bush’s Dallas home — and how to place bomb material inside dolls and baby carriages, court records show.
They also discovered Aldawsari’s journal, handwritten in Arabic, in which he wrote that he had been planning a terror attack in the U.S. for years, even before he came to the country on a scholarship, and that it was “time for jihad,” or holy war, court documents show. He bemoaned the plight of Muslims and said he was influenced by Osama bin Laden’s speeches.
U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter, who is assigned to the case, ruled last week that prosecutors can use footage from videos found on Aldawsari’s computer, including one in which Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s current leader, praises as martyrs two unspecified individuals killed by “American Crusaders.” Two instructional videos that he also allowed show how to prepare the explosive picric acid and how to use a cellphone as a remote detonator.
The judge excluded a video containing an image of Osama bin Laden and audio believed to be a speech given by the slain al-Qaida leader and another file on that video that has graphic images of war that seem to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to court documents. Walter wrote that prosecutors could present it at trial and explain its relevance to him while jurors are out of the courtroom, documents show.
Aldawsari’s attorneys said in court documents that the video “rolls everything that is unfairly prejudicial about the other videos into one.” They also said Aldawsari had no contact with any terrorists.
TNP, the chemical explosive that Aldawsari was suspected of trying to make, has about the same destructive power as TNT. FBI bomb experts said the amounts in the Aldawsari case would have yielded almost 15 pounds of explosive — about the same amount used per bomb in the London subway attacks that killed scores of people in July 2005.
Authorities say they were tipped to Aldawsari’s online purchases by chemical company Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., and shipping company Con-way Freight on Feb. 1, 2011. The chemical company reported a $435 suspicious purchase to the FBI, while the shipping company notified Lubbock police and the FBI 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 had made on the Internet and secretly searched his off-campus apartment, computer and email accounts and read his diary, according to court records.
Aldawsari came to the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech. He transferred in early 2011 to nearby South Plains College, where he was studying business. A Saudi industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying his tuition and living expenses.
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