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Shortly after a Saudi man who attended college in Lubbock was accused of attempting "to use a weapon of mass destruction," U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, issued a statement about his "likely" connection to an international terrorist network.
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari’s "intent to use baby dolls to conceal chemical explosives is a rare, little-known method used by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef in the 1995 Bojinka plot in which they planned to blow up 12 jumbo jets over the Pacific Ocean," McCaul, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in his Feb. 28 statement.
We won’t rule on Aldawsari’s intent or his guilt — that’s for the court to decide. But we wondered about McCaul’s statement that baby dolls figured into both his case, and the 1995 plot linked to Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Yousef, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
First, some background on the Aldawsari case: Federal agents arrested the 20-year-old former Texas Tech chemical engineering student on Feb. 23 after a search of his home and computer. According to an Associated Press story, federal authorities said he had purchased explosive materials online and planned to hide them in dolls and baby carriages to blow up dams, nuclear plants and former President George W. Bush's Dallas home.
Aldawsari was indicted in federal court on March 9 and if convicted, could be sentenced to life in prison and fined $250,000, according to the AP. He plans to plead not guilty, according to a Feb. 25 New York Times article quoting his lawyer, Rod Hobson. Hobson did not respond to our queries.
Responding to our request for more information about the congressman’s claim, McCaul spokesman Mike Rosen sent us a Feb. 23 affidavit submitted by FBI agent Michael Orndorff to secure the arrest warrant for Aldawsari. According to the affidavit, the FBI launched its investigation after the Carolina Biological Supply in North Carolina, suspicious about an attempted purchase of chemicals by Aldawsari, reported him Feb. 1.
According to the affidavit, Aldawsari had "made numerous Internet searches related to infants and babies. He viewed photos of realistic-looking newborn and infant dolls. In addition, numerous websites were viewed that are related to baby accessories, including strollers, baby clothes and diapers. Aldawsari also viewed doll photos that appeared to be altered in the neck area, with what may have been a pipe and wires visible."
Based on his "training and experience," Orndorff says in the affidavit that he "believes this web activity could indicate Aldawsari’s consideration of the use of a realistic doll to conceal explosives or other weapons."
Under a section titled "research of targets by Aldawsari," the affidavit says that on Feb. 6, he e-mailed himself Bush’s Dallas address with the subject line: "tyrant’s house."
We contacted the Justice Department for more information about the Aldawsari case. Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the national security division, told us that the agency couldn’t talk to the media about it because the federal judge presiding over the case had issued a gag order.
What about the 1995 terrorist plot that McCaul referenced? Did Mohammed and Yousef plan to use baby dolls packed with explosives to blow up planes?
Rosen told us that he didn’t have documentation for that part of McCaul’s statement but that McCaul learned about the doll plan while he was serving as chief of counterterrorism in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Texas prior to joining Congress.
Separately, we found a September 1996 Los Angeles Times news article reporting that a federal jury had found Yousef and two co-defendants guilty of planning to blow up 12 U.S. jetliners over the Pacific. According to a 2006 New York Times story, Yousef worked with Mohammed, his uncle, to hatch the plot.
The Times story says: "Mohammed code-named the operation Bojinka, which was widely reported to have been adopted from Serbo-Croatian, meaning big bang. But Mr. Mohammed has told his CIA interrogators interrogators that it was just a ‘nonsense word’ he adopted after hearing it when he was fighting in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union, according to the 9/11 Commission Report."
Next, we consulted Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence company. According to a September 2009 article on aviation security by Stratfor Vice President Scott Stewart, the Bojinka plot involved using baby dolls to smuggle explosives onto the planes. The article says: "The baby-doll device was successfully smuggled past security (in Manila, Philippines) in a test run in December 1993 and was detonated aboard Philippine Air Flight 434," although it failed to bring the plane down.
The Bojinka plot unraveled when Yousef accidentally set his apartment on fire while making another bomb, the Stratfor article says.
In a Feb. 24 report, Stratfor said accounts that Aldawsari had "images of dolls apparently manipulated into (explosive devices)" on his computer hearkens back to Yousef’s attempt to use dolls in the Bojinka plot.
Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence, was involved in Yousef’s 1995 arrest in Pakistan as a special agent for the U.S. State Department. In a Sept. 17 Web video posted on YouTube, Burton says: "We were able to go in and capture Ramzi Yousef at a hotel and recover a whole bunch of improvised explosive devices that had been made to look like baby doll bombs that he intended to use to blow up airplanes around the world."
Yousef is serving a life sentence in maximum-security prison in Colorado, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Mohammed has been held in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for four 1/2 years, according to a list of detainees on the New York Times.
Summing up: An FBI investigation suggests that Aldawsari could have been considering using a doll to conceal explosives in attacks on U.S. targets, including Bush’s Dallas home. Other reports also indicate that Mohammed and Yousef planned to use baby dolls to conceal explosives in a 1995 plot.
We rate McCaul’s statement as True.
Statement by Rep. Michael McCaul, Feb. 28, 2011
Affidavit in support of criminal complaint and arrest warrant, Feb. 23, 2011
The Associated Press, Saudi suspect in terror plot appears in fed. court, Feb. 25, 2011
The Associated Press, Former Lubbock student accused of plotting to attack George W. Bush’s Dallas home is indicted, March 10, 2011
The New York Times, Portrait of 9/11 ‘Jackal’ emerges as he awaits trial, Nov. 14, 2009
The New York Times, Saudi student to be arraigned in bomb plot, Feb. 25, 2011
The New York Times, Echoes of early design to use chemicals to blow up airliners, Aug. 11, 2006
Los Angeles Times, Three men found guilty of plot to bomb U.S. jetliners, Sept. 6, 1996
Stratfor, Convergence: The challenge of aviation security, Sept. 16, 2009
Strafor, Saudi citizen in Texas charged with terrorist plot, Feb. 24, 2011
Stratfor, Special Report: The tactical side of the U.K. airliner plot, Aug. 10, 2006
Stratfor, Video: Fred, how were you involved in the capture of Ramzi Yousef, Sept. 17, 2010
Federal Bureau of Prisons, Inmate locator: Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, accessed March 24, 2011
The New York Times, The Guantanamo Docket, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accessed March 24, 2011
E-mail interview with Mike Rosen, communications director for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, March 8, 2011
Interview with Kyle Rhodes, public relations manager, Strator, March 22, 2011
E-mail interview with Dean Boyd, spokesman, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice, March 23, 2011
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