The LWOT: FBI arrests Saudi in alleged terrorism plot; Chesser gets 25 years in prison

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

FBI arrests Saudi in alleged terrorism plot

The FBI arrested a 20-year old Saudi student at a Texas community college, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari (criminal complaint available here), late Feb. 23, charging him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in a terrorist attack (DoJ, NYT, Washington Post, AP). Aldawsari, who moved to the United States in 2008 on a student visa, reportedly came to the attention of the FBI after a chemical company on Feb. 1 reported the suspicious purchase of 1.3 gallons of phenol, a legal chemical that can make an explosive equivalent to TNT, trinitrophenol (known as TNP), when mixed with sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Aldawsari is expected to appear in court this morning.

According to the FBI, Aldawsari had already acquired the sulfuric and nitric acids, as well as a hazardous materials suit, wires, and clocks, as well as beakers and other laboratory equipment. A former chemical engineering student, he reportedly researched extracting phenol from aspirin when his original order came under scrutiny, and had also looked into remote detonation using cell phones (AJE, AP). A search of Aldawsari's journal and email records reveal that he considered numerous sites for targeting, including New York City, dams and nuclear power plants, the Texas home of former President George W. Bush, and the homes of three former guards at the U.S. military prison at Abu Ghraib (McClatchy, Washington Post, NPR).

FBI arrests Saudi in alleged terrorism plot

The FBI arrested a 20-year old Saudi student at a Texas community college, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari (criminal complaint available here), late Feb. 23, charging him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in a terrorist attack (DoJ, NYT, Washington Post, AP). Aldawsari, who moved to the United States in 2008 on a student visa, reportedly came to the attention of the FBI after a chemical company on Feb. 1 reported the suspicious purchase of 1.3 gallons of phenol, a legal chemical that can make an explosive equivalent to TNT, trinitrophenol (known as TNP), when mixed with sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Aldawsari is expected to appear in court this morning.

According to the FBI, Aldawsari had already acquired the sulfuric and nitric acids, as well as a hazardous materials suit, wires, and clocks, as well as beakers and other laboratory equipment. A former chemical engineering student, he reportedly researched extracting phenol from aspirin when his original order came under scrutiny, and had also looked into remote detonation using cell phones (AJE, AP). A search of Aldawsari’s journal and email records reveal that he considered numerous sites for targeting, including New York City, dams and nuclear power plants, the Texas home of former President George W. Bush, and the homes of three former guards at the U.S. military prison at Abu Ghraib (McClatchy, Washington Post, NPR).

While there is no evidence connecting Aldawsari to terrorist groups, he reportedly wrote in his diary and on a blog about Osama bin Laden as a source of inspiration, as well as his desire to wage jihad going back to his time in Saudi Arabia. In a blog post, he allegedly wrote, "After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad" (LAT).

Chesser sentenced to 25 years in prison           

A federal judge in Virginia on Feb. 24 sentenced Zachary Chesser, known on jihadist websites as Abu Talhah al-Amrikee, to 25 years in prison for attempting to join the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group in Somalia, as well as making threats of violence (Washington Post, AP, CNN). Chesser, a college dropout and convert to Islam, gained attention last year when he threatened the creators of South Park over their depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit. In a statement to the court (available here) Chesser expressed his remorse and renounced violence. However, in sentencing Chesser Judge Liam O’Grady said, "It’s amazing how quickly you became a danger. If anyone had been harmed, we’d be talking about a life sentence" (Washington Post).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed suit Feb. 23 against the FBI for the latter’s alleged use of an informant to indiscriminately spy on worshipers in several California mosques (LAT, Washington Post).The suit centers around the activity of FBI informant Craig Monteilh, who from 2006 to 2007 was allegedly paid by the FBI to spy on several mosques, efforts that came to light when Monteilh’s aggressive talk of jihad prompted several mosque-goers to report him to the FBI. The case damaged relationships between the FBI and the local Muslim community, who argue that the alleged surveillance infringed on their right to freely practice their religion (NYT).

Lawyers for two Somali men charged with providing material support for al-Shabaab, Mohamud Abdi Yusuf and Abdi Mahdi Hussein, challenged the government’s evidence against their clients in court this week, and implied that the surveillance against the men was authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

A federal judge in Oregon ruled that Attorney General Eric Holder acted improperly when he spoke in defense of the FBI’s investigation of Oregon teen Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested last year in a sting operation for allegedly plotting to attack Portland’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony (AP, OregonLive.com). And a U.S. Army Colonel is expected to make a recommendation soon on whether or not Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with killing 13 in a shooting spree in Nov. 2009 at Fort Hood, will face a court martial (AP).

Finally this week, protesters gathered this week at the Long Island, NY office of Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in opposition to King’s planned hearings on Muslim radicalization in the United States, scheduled to resume Mar. 10 (AP).

Republicans close off avenues to shutter Gitmo

Despite indications that the Obama administration no longer intends to use the Thomson correctionalfacility in Illinois to house Guantánamo Bay detainees, Congressional Republicans this week sought to put formal language in an appropriations bill refusing money for the prison without written assurance from the White House not to transfer detainees there (LAT). The administration currently wants to use the prison as a maximum security facility for federal inmates.

And over at Lawfare Blog, Benjamin Wittes attacked a proposed law from Rep. Steven Scalise (R-LA) that would end funding for U.S. State Department efforts to resettle in third countries Guantánamo detainees who have been cleared for release (Lawfare Blog). Wittes also points out that the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) missed their deadline to appeal the dismissal last year of their lawsuit seeking an injunction into government efforts to kill radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Lawfare Blog).

7/7 inquest continues

The inquest into the 7/7 transit bombings which killed 52 commuters in London in 2005 heard late this week that an intelligence desk officer had flagged information regarding plot ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan and bomber Shehzad Tanweer that could have exposed the plot had it been explored further (Independent, BBC, AFP, Telegraph).

A British jury is currently deliberating in the trial of Rajib Karim, accused of plotting terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom with the guidance of Anwar al-Awlaki (BBC). And British police use of "stop-and-search" powers has dropped significantly since the European Court ruled them unlawful last year (Guardian).

Trials and Tribulations

  • The State Department on Feb. 24 declared the Greek Sect of Revolutionaries a terrorist group, bringing to 48 the number of organizations so designated by the United States (AP).
  • Der Spiegel reports this week on the implications of the ruling by the Special Tribunal of Lebanon last week that terrorism can be prosecuted under international law (Der Spiegel).
  • Libyan authorities this week said an Islamic emirate had been set up in the Libya region of Derna by a former Guantánamo Bay detainee, Abdelkarim al-Hasadi (AFP). Residents of the region flatly denied the charge, saying the accusation was "something to scare Europe with."
  • South African authorities searched the prison cell of an accused Nigerian terrorist this week, after the man allegedly made threatening calls to Nigerian officials (AFP).
  • The trial of radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakir Bashir continued this week, with Bashir denying the charges against him but defending the propriety of violence against Islam’s enemies (AP, VOA).

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