LUBBOCK, Texas - A U.S. college student from Saudi Arabia accused of buying chemicals and equipment to build a weapon of mass destruction pleaded not guilty Monday.
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, his hands and feet shackled and wearing dark blue jail clothing, entered his plea at his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koenig at the federal courthouse in Lubbock, Texas. Koenig set a May 2 trial date.
If convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction he faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Earlier this month U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings, the trial judge, issued an order prohibiting Aldawsari's attorney or prosecutors from speaking about the case.
Court documents allege he hatched plans to attack various U.S. targets, including in New York City and at former President George W. Bush's Dallas home.
Rod Hobson, the 20-year-old's attorney, stood with his client and whispered to him after Koenig asked Aldawsari whether he wanted to waive the reading of his indictment. "Waive," Aldawsari told Koenig.
Aldawsari, who was legally in the U.S. on a student visa, was arrested Feb. 23. The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified about the plot.
Court records indicate authorities traced Aldawsari's online purchases, discovered extremist online posts he made and secretly searched his apartment, computer and email accounts, and read his diary.
The terrorism case detailed in court documents was significant because it suggests that radicalized foreigners can live quietly in the U.S. without raising suspicions from neighbors, classmates, teachers or others. It also showed how quickly U.S. law enforcement can move when tipped that a terrorist plot may be unfolding.
Federal authorities said a chemical company, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, North Carolina, reported $435 in suspicious orders by Aldawsari to the FBI on Feb. 1. Separately, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based shipping company Con-way Freight notified Lubbock police and the FBI the same day with similar suspicions because it appeared the order wasn't intended for commercial use.
Prosecutors said that in December, he bought 30 liters of concentrated nitric acid from QualiChem Technologies in Georgia, and 3 gallons (11 liters) of concentrated sulfuric acid that are combined to make TNP. The FBI later found the chemicals in Aldawsari's apartment as well as beakers, flasks, wiring, a Hazmat suit and clocks.
Aldawsari entered the U.S. in October 2008 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to study chemical engineering at Texas Tech University. He transferred this year to nearby South Plains College, where he was studying business. A Saudi industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying his tuition and living expenses in the U.S.
Aldawsari wrote that he was planning an attack in the United States for years, even before coming to the U.S. on a scholarship. He said he was influenced by Osama bin Laden's speeches and that he bemoaned the plight of Muslims.