AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — Federal agents who searched the Texas apartment of a Saudi man accused of gathering materials to make a bomb found sulfuric acid and nitric acid, among other things, an FBI agent testified Friday.
During the first day of testimony in the trial of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, Special Agent Aaron Covey walked jurors through the 22-year-old former chemical engineering student's apartment in West Texas using photos taken hours after Aldawsari's Feb. 23, 2011, arrest. Prosecutors contend Aldawsari gathered bomb components with the goal of targeting sites across the U.S.
Prosecutors presented more than 80 exhibits Friday, many of them photos that gave jurors a first look at Aldawsari's sparsely furnished apartment near Texas Tech University. In addition to the bottles of sulfuric and nitric acids, prosecutors showed photos of cellphones, Christmas lights, journals and notebooks, a laptop computer, wiring, a stun gun, a hazmat suit and a baby scale.
Aldawsari faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Investigators say the targets he researched included the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, dams and nuclear plants.
Defense attorney Dan Cogdell argued that though Aldawsari had intent, he never took a "substantial step" to make or use a bomb. Under cross-examination, Covey confirmed that none of the bottles of sulfuric and nitric acid had been opened.
Cogdell also asked Covey about a third chemical Aldawsari allegedly had tried to obtain to make a bomb.
"In that time did you find any phenol?" Cogdell asked.
"No," Covey testified.
Testimony was scheduled to resume Monday.
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.
In his opening statement earlier Friday, Cogdell called his client a failure who never presented a true threat.
"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."
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."
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.
Aldawsari sat quietly in the courtroom during Friday's testimony, looking up occasionally as photos of his apartment were shown. At one point, he wrote for several minutes on a legal pad, though he never passed anything to his defense team.
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 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 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.
FBI bomb experts have 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.