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Saudi national to plead not guilty to terror charge

By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
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Terror arrest in Texas
  • NEW: Aldawsari intends to plead not guilty on terrorism-related charges
  • He is accused of planning to attack targets in Texas
  • He faces a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction
  • Terrorism
  • George W. Bush
  • Lubbock

Washington (CNN) -- A Saudi national arrested for allegedly researching and acquiring chemicals to make a bomb intends to plead not guilty, his defense attorney said Friday.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old who attended school near Lubbock in northwest Texas, made his first court appearance Friday wearing a prison jumpsuit with his hands and legs shackled.

Dick Baker, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas read the charges against Aldawsari, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koenig asked him if he understood.

Aldawsari said he did, and the judge ordered that he remain in custody until a detention hearing and preliminary hearing scheduled for March 11.

His attorney, Rod Hobson, said Al Dawsari should be "presumed innocent."

"I request that everyone take a step back and allow the legal proceedings to unfold in a timely and orderly fashion," Hobson said in a statement he handed out after the brief court session.

Aldawsari allegedly researched several possible targets, including the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, along with nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams.

He was arrested on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in connection with his alleged purchase of chemicals and equipment necessary to make an improvised explosive device, the Justice Department said.

Aldawsari, who was lawfully admitted into the United States on a student visa and had studied at an English language center at Vanderbilt University between fall 2008 and summer 2009, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, officials said.

According to court records, Aldawsari conducted online research into how to construct an improvised explosive device, or IED, using several chemicals as ingredients. He has also "acquired or taken a substantial step toward acquiring most of the ingredients and equipment" needed for the bomb, documents said.

Authorities said Aldawsari described his desire for violent jihad and martyrdom in blog postings and a personal journal.

He conducted research on various targets and e-mailed himself information on these locations and people, the Justice Department said.

On February 6, the affidavit alleges, Aldawsari sent himself an e-mail titled "Tyrant's House," in which he listed the Dallas address for former President George W. Bush, investigators said.

In a personal journal found in Aldawsari's apartment, he wrote that the events of September 11, 2001, had produced a "big change" in his thinking and that he had been inspired by the speeches of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the affidavit said.

He had excelled in high school in order to take advantage of scholarship opportunities offered by Saudi companies to get to the United States, he wrote, and had been planning to commit a terrorist attack in the United States for years, according to the affidavit.

Aldawsari allegedly wrote that the scholarship he received "will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad."

The entry continued: "And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad," the affidavit says.

Aldawsari's alleged plan first came to the attention of authorities only three weeks ago, on January 30, when shipping company Con-way Freight became suspicious after Aldawsari allegedly called the company and asked it to hold a package for him.

Con-way Freight company officials told police it had no relationship with Aldawsari that would have allowed him to use the company as a shipping location, officials said.

Investigators learned the shipment involved the toxic chemical phenol, which can be used in making the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as TNP or picric acid.

Con-way's local management flagged the shipment as suspicious and notified Con-way's corporate security department, triggering the company's Homeland Security escalation plan, according to a company statement.

On February 8, an FBI agent posing as an employee of the North Carolina supply company that sent the chemicals called Aldawsari and asked why he wished to purchase the phenol, according to the records.

Aldaswari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the chemical for "off-campus, personal research," the affidavit says.

Frustrated by his inability to obtain the chemicals, Aldawsari canceled the order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol.

The affidavit alleges that Aldawsari also e-mailed himself instructions on how to convert a cellular phone into a remote detonator and how to prepare a booby-trapped vehicle using items available in every home.

One email allegedly contained a message stating that "one operation in the land of the infidels is equal to 10 operations against occupying forces in the land of the Muslims."

During December 2010 and January 2011, Aldawsari allegedly purchased many other items, including a gas mask, a hazardous materials suit, a soldering iron kit, glass beakers and flasks, wiring, a stun gun, clocks and a battery tester.

Authorities said Aldawsari described his desire for violent jihad and martyrdom in blog postings, using the online user name "fromfaraway90." He expressed dissatisfaction with the current condition of Muslims, lamenting what he viewed as their passivity and pacifism, according to the affidavit.

In another email to himself, titled "NICE TARGETS," he listed two categories of targets: hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants, the affidavit said.

Other e-mails sent to himself, with the subject line "Targets," contained the names and home addresses of three people who had previously served in the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, authorities alleged.

"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 David Kris, who is assistant attorney general for national security. "This case serves as another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad."

A spokesman for former President Bush referred calls to the Secret Service.

President Barack Obama was informed about the operation before the arrest was made, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

"The president thanks the FBI, Department of Justice, and the rest of our law enforcement, intelligence and Homeland Security professionals who continue to keep us safe and who once again have served with extraordinary skill and with the commitment that their enormous responsibilities demand," Shapiro said.

South Plains College said that it had been notified that one of its students had been detained, but didn't have further information on the arrest. A spokeswoman said that Aldawsari was a transfer student who had been at their college for only six weeks.

CNN's Vivian Kuo and Jim Barnett contributed to this report.