AMARILLO, Texas — The attorney defending a Saudi man accused of gathering bomb components at his Texas apartment in an unfulfilled plot to attack targets in the U.S. on Friday called his client a failure who never presented a true threat.
In his opening statement, attorney Dan Cogdell said Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari had intent but that he never took the "substantial step" needed for the court to find him guilty of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
"Was he a lone wolf or was he a loser alone?" Cogdell asked. "I think the evidence will show he was a loser alone who failed."
Federal agents secretly searched Aldawsari's apartment in Lubbock twice last year and 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.
Agents say they also uncovered handwritten journals, recordings and online postings suggesting Aldawsari had long planned to launch an attack in the U.S. and that potential targets included dams, nuclear plants and the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush.
Aldawsari, 22, faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Cogdell said one word came to mind in describing his client: Failure.
"He's a failure academically," Cogdell said. "He's a failure at relationships."
Aldawsari came to the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. 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, paid his tuition and living expenses.
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.
Prosecutors played recordings Friday of a frustrated Aldawsari complaining to the supply company when his order was held up. "They keep asking me why I'm using this product," Aldawsari is heard telling a customer service employee. The employee told Aldawsari that the company couldn't ship hazardous materials on a personal credit card.
Aldawsari became a familiar caller as he grew angrier. One worker is heard telling another, "I have Khalid. He's hotter than a firecracker." Workers were eventually instructed to always transfer Aldawsari's calls directly to a supervisor's voicemail.
Court records show Aldawsari had successfully ordered 30 liters of nitric acid and three gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid in December 2010.
Court documents say Aldawsari wrote in Arabic in his journal that he had been planning a terror attack in the U.S. even before he came to the country on a scholarship, and that it was "time for jihad," or holy war. He bemoaned the plight of Muslims and said he was influenced by Osama bin Laden's speeches.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Haag described "10 blocks of evidence" he would present to the jury, including emails, writings and recordings of phone conversations in which Aldawsari described his desire to attack Americans.
"Maybe they deserved 9/11 and maybe it should happen again and again because these people actually deserve it," Aldawsari allegedly said, according to Haag.
"At the core of those 10 blocks, the evidence demands that Mr. Aldawsari is guilty of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction," he said.
U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter 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.
FBI bomb experts said they believe Aldawsari had sufficient components to produce 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.