A 20-year-old college student was arrested this week after authorities say he planned to carry out several acts of terrorism. The student was caught after a trucking firm noticed and reported his peculiar freight order to federal agents.
The FBI was reportedly tipped off by the Ann Arbor, MI-based Con-Way Freight trucking firm that Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari had at first ordered and later canceled an order of 1.3 gallons of phenol. Aldawsari, prosecutors allege, was trying to create TNP, a chemical that is reportedly as explosive as TNT.
Aldawsari has been charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. President Obama was notified about the plot before Aldawsari?s arrest Wednesday, Feb. 23.
According to court documents, Aldawsari had researched online how to build an improvised explosive device (IED), had acquired or attempted to acquire most of the ingredients and equipment needed to build an IED, and had researched potential targets online.
In early December 2010, he ordered three gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid from Amazon.com.
Also in December, Aldawsari ordered 30 liters of nitric acid and had it shipped to a Fed-Ex Kinko?s location near his apartment through Con-Way Freight.
On Feb. 1, a North Carolina chemical manufacturer, Carolina Biological Supply, notified the FBI that a suspicious person purchased 10 500-milliliter bottles of phenol and had the order shipped to a Con-Way Freight office in Lubbock, TX.
Aldawsari, court records say, had already called Con-Way Freight and told a company employee that a package would arrive at their Lubbock office for him. The defendant allegedly requested that Con-Way Freight hold the package for him until he could pick it up. But, he was told it had been returned to the chemical manufacturer. Con-Way Freight then called the Lubbock Police Department and later spoke with the FBI about the order.
The chemical maker told the FBI it does not ship phenol to an individual or a residence as a matter of policy.
The FBI and Carolina Biological Supply made multiple calls to Aldawsari in early February, inquiring about the phenol order. Eventually, Aldawsari called the chemical maker and said he was frustrated over the questions, and canceled the order.
In the country legally on a student visa, the citizen of Saudi Arabia attended Texas Tech University and majored in chemical engineering. A Saudi industrial company paid for Aldawsari?s schooling and expenses, court documents show.
The Associated Press reported that Aldawsari was trying to make about 15 pounds of explosive, or enough to equal the bomb in the July 2005 London subway attacks.
Aldawsari, court documents show, blogged about wanting martyrdom and Jihad, posting on April 8, 2010 ?if this is the West?s version of freedom, and their peace policy, we have our own policies in freedom and it is war until ? the infidels leave defeated.?
Court documents state this Aldawsari?s journal entries showed that he had planned to commit terrorism in the U.S. for years, and had ?excelled in my studies in high school in order to take advantage of an opportunity for a scholarship to America ? and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans; it is time for Jihad.?
The journal also allegedly includes references to Aldawsari being inspired by the speeches of Usama bin Laden, and that the 9-11 attacks changed his thinking. The journal also allegedly includes specific plans for traveling to New York, preparing bombs for remote detonation and exploding them in multiple places during rush hour.
He also allegedly targeted 12 reservoirs or dams in Colorado and California in e-mails titled ?NICE TARGETS 01.? In an e-mail titled ?Tyrant?s House,? Aldawsari listed the Dallas address for former President George W. Bush.
Most trucking companies would have picked up on the oddities of Aldawsari?s order, trucking security expert Doug Morris said, and would also have contacted authorities as Con-Way Freight did.
?If it?s a hazardous material not being shipped to a business address or to a specific person as opposed to a company, it?s going to stick out,? Morris said. ?If it doesn?t look right or smell right, obviously it?s probably not right.?
Thousands of truckers are enrolled and trained in the First Observer program, which gives professional truck drivers a way to report suspicious behavior or circumstances that don?t rise to the level of a 911 phone call.
Morris, OOIDA director of security, said the First Observer program also would have notified the FBI about the suspicious circumstances surrounding Aldawsari?s order.
First Observer, of which OOIDA is a partner, is a highway security program funded by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is administered by the Transportation Security Administration.
First Observer has a call center in the Washington DC area that gathers information from trucking professionals, and is connected with a security umbrella tied to major investigative agencies including the FBI.
Morris suggests truckers take the First Observer training program at www.firstobserver.com.
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