Observant workers, diligent screening, and established security protocols in place and Con-Way Freight’s Lubbock Texas service center combined to foil a terrorist bomb plot.
On Thursday, the FBI arrested Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi student studying in Texas, and charged him with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. It’s alleged that Aldawsari was attempting to construct improvised explosives and compiling a list of possible targets, including West Coast reservoirs and dams, nuclear power plants and the home of former President George W. Bush.
The investigation leading to the arrest began on Feb.1 when workers at Con-Way’s Lubbock service center received a package for shipment that was deemed suspicious. Based on training and experience, Con-way’s local management flagged the shipment and notified the company’s corporate security department.
“The shipment matched profiles outlined in Con-way’s security protocols for identifying shipments of a suspicious nature, and which appeared for use not consistent with known commercial application of the product,” the company said in a prepared statement.
According to the government, Con-way Freight of Ann Arbor, Mich., contacted the Lubbock, Texas police department after Aldawsari attempted to ship ten 500 ml bottles of a chemical called phenol to an address in Texas, where the Saudi national was attending college on an exchange program.
On January 30, Aldawsari called Con-way Freight and asked the company to hold the package for him. Con-way told him it had already returned the shipment and then called Lubbock Police.
Separately, according to the government’s criminal complaint, officials at Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C. alerted the FBI of a “suspicious attempted purchase.”
US officials said Thursday that the cooperation from the two companies was crucial to cracking the case.
“This arrest demonstrates the importance of vigilance by the public and the willingness of companies to ask questions and notify authorities when they encounter suspicious activities,” said James T. Jacks, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.
FBI special agent Michael Orndorff asked Carolina Biological Supply to call Aldawsari back and ask him why he wanted the chemical. Aldawsari allegedly told the official that he was associated with a Texas university and wanted the material for “off-campus, personal research.”
Reuters reports Aldawsari was born in Saudi Arabia on April 24, 1990, and came to the United States on a student visa in September 2008. He took English language classes for a year and attended Texas Tech University where he majored in chemical engineering from August 2009 until last month. He then transferred to South Plains College near Lubbock to major in business.
Investigation Points to bin-Laden Connection
Following up on leads and trying to learn more of the suspect, the FBI snuck into Aldawsari’s apartment on Valentine’s Day finding, the complaint said, “the concentrated sulfuric acid, the concentrated nitric acid, the lab equipment to include beakers and flasks, wiring, the Christmas lights, the Hazmat suit and clocks.” All of which, the government alleges, could be used to make an improvised explosive device.
Additionally the government said FBI agents also found a personal journal belonging to Aldawsari in which he said that he had planned to commit an attack inside the United States for years and that he was inspired by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s speeches. Agents said Aldawsari seemingly wrote that he was ready for an attack.
“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,” he allegedly wrote. “I put my trust in God, for he is the best master and authority.”
He also listed in the journal the steps he needed to take to carry out an attack, including getting fake U.S. documents, renting cars and placing the vehicles with bombs in them at different locations during rush hour.
In its prepared statement, Con-Way noted that it and other members of the transportation community have been working closely for several years with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other authorities to develop escalation plans and communication practices to enhance homeland security.
Concerns over the products being shipped (phenol) and apparent inconsistencies noted about the intended use of the product, triggered the company’s Homeland Security escalation plan.
“After being notified by Con-Way’s corporate security department, law enforcement authorities visited our facility and examined the shipment. The FBI subsequently reviewed the shipment information as part of its ongoing investigation which yesterday resulted in Aldawsari’s arrest,” Con-Way says.
Con-way continues to cooperate fully in partnership with law enforcement authorities in support of the investigation.
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