Lubbock terror suspect appears in court

Last Updated 7:55 p.m. ET

LUBBOCK, Texas - The man arrested for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction appeared in federal court Friday.

U.S. Marshals escorted a handcuffed Khalid Ali-M Aldawsai into U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas earlier this morning, two days after the college student from Saudi Arabia was arrested on terror charges.

The Justice Department said Aldawsari bought explosive chemicals online and planned to blow up dams, nuclear plants, or the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush.

Aldawsari reportedly said he had been inspired by 9/11 and speeches by Osama bin Laden.

Judge Nancy Koenig asked the 20-year-old if he understands the charges against him, to which he replied: "Yes, I do."

Judge Koenig also asked Aldawsari if he had been contacted by the Saudi Consulate. He answered "Yes."

The judge ordered him to remain in custody until a March 11 detention hearing.

Aldawsari faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

FBI thwarts suspected bomb plot in Texas
CBS News' Bob Orr on how the bust went down

In his journal, the college student from Saudi Arabia who studied chemical engineering in Texas described a plan to travel to New York City, place bombs in several rental cars for remote detonation and leave the vehicles in different places during rush hour, according to court documents released Thursday.

"After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad," or holy war, Aldawsari wrote in the journal, according to the documents filed by prosecutors.

In a statement this morning, Aldawsari's attorney Rod Hobson called press coverage since his client's arrest "very one-sided and biased," and suggested it has made it difficult for Aldawsari to receive a fair trial in Lubbock.

"This is not 'Alice in Wonderland' where the Queen said, 'First the punishment, then the trial,'" Hobson said. "This is America, where everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, due process, effective representation of counsel and a fair trial."

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world how truly fair our legal system is; even to those who are accused of trying to harm our country," he said.

"As we lay out in this affidavit, there were a range of targets being contemplated," Robert Casey, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, said. "I can't speak to his state of mind or the priority in his mind of any of the range of targets we think we discovered."

Aldawsari, who was legally in the U.S. on a student visa, studied chemical engineering at Texas Tech University until January before transferring to a nearby college to study business.

The White House said President Barack Obama was notified about the alleged plot before Aldawsari's arrest.

Telephone numbers that Aldawsari had provided to others were not working Thursday. No one answered the buzzer or a knock on the door at the address listed as Aldawsari's apartment near the Texas Tech campus.

The case outlined 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. But it also showed how quickly U.S. law enforcement can move when tipped that a terrorist plot may be unfolding.

"We think we have neutralized any other threats or imminent harm surrounding the actions that he's charged with, but the investigation is continuing," Casey said.

Aldawsari wrote that he was planning an attack even before coming to the U.S. on a scholarship, the court documents say. He said he was influenced by bin Laden's speeches and he bemoaned the plight of Muslims.

Federal authorities said they learned of the plot after a chemical company, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., reported $435 in suspicious order by Aldawsari to the FBI on Feb. 1.

Separately, Con-way Freight, the shipping company, notified Lubbock police and the FBI the same day with similar suspicions because it appeared the order wasn't intended for commercial use. Within weeks, federal agents had traced Aldawsari's other online purchases, discovered extremist posts he made on the Internet and secretly searched his apartment, computer and e-mail accounts and read his diary, according to court records.

Khalid Aldawsari's former roommate said he learned about his arrest on the news Thursday, just like everyone else.

CBS Affiliate KLBK correspondent Brooke Thomas reports that the man (who wished to remain anonymous) didn't know much about Aldawsari, because he was quiet and always stayed in his room.

"Just over the fact that he always left his door locked . . . we didn't want to judge, we didn't want to pre-judge him just because he was Arabic and Muslim or anything, everybody else who came to our apartment always suspected him of being a terrorist, just joking around, and we's kind of blow it off and defend him," he told Thomas.

"I guess we were wrong!"

Another former roommate, "If you lived with him, you'd probably think he was just a shy kid who was just trying to go to school."

Aldawsari also published a blog titled From Far Away, in which he writes about his time in Lubbock. In a post about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, written in Arabic, he blames the U.S. for the deaths of Muslim children and stolen money and property in Iraq.

Neighbors in Lubbock said they didn't remember seeing Aldawsari but noticed an unusual number of people in the hallway the day of his arrest.

"That's so scary," said Sally Dierschke, a 21-year-old senior at Texas Tech. "That's my neighbor. ... Of course, I'm scared."

Ahmid Obaidan, a senior at Tennessee State University who also is from Saudi Arabia, met Aldawsari in Nashville, Tenn., when Aldawsari was studying at an English language center at Vanderbilt University.

"He was quiet. I thought he was a good guy," Obaidan said.

The FBI said the North Carolina company reported the attempts to purchase 1.3 gallons of phenol, a chemical that can be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as TNP, or picric acid. Aldawsari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for "off-campus, personal research," according to court records. Frustrated by questions, Aldawsari canceled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol, the documents say.

TNP, the chemical explosive that Aldawsari was suspected of trying to make, has approximately the same destructive power as TNT. FBI bomb experts said the amounts in the Aldawsari case would have yielded almost 15 pounds of explosive. That's about the same amount used per bomb in the London subway attacks that killed scores of people in July 2005.

Prosecutors said that in December, he bought 30 liters of concentrated nitric acid for about $450 from QualiChem Technologies in Georgia, and three gallons 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.

A Saudi industrial company, which was not identified in court documents, was paying Aldawsari's tuition and living expenses in the U.S.

Casey declined to go into why the arrest occurred when it did.

"We just felt it was the right time," he said.

Since 9/11, police across America have been reaching out to businesses who handle dangerous materials, openly soliciting tips, reports CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent Bob Orr. Officials say Aldawsari's arrest is a direct dividend because without the tips, the FBI had nothing on Aldawsari.And his alleged bomb plot was nearing completion.