Dallas Terrorist Tried to Bomb Downtown Skyscraper

We shall attack them in their very own homes. Brother, by God, we shall attack them in a manner that hurts, an attack that shakes the world. Oh Brother, let the backsliders know that the time for their destruction has come. —Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, would-be Dallas terrorist




September 25, 2009
By Jason Trahan, Todd J. Gillman and Scott
The Dallas Morning News

A 19-year-old Jordanian citizen made his appearance before a federal magistrate in Dallas, after authorities accused him of attempting to blow up a downtown Dallas skyscraper.

Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested Thursday after he parked a vehicle laden with government-supplied fake explosives in the underground parking garage of Fountain Place, a 60-story tower in the 1400 block of Ross Avenue at North Field Street, authorities said.

He was ordered to appear again in federal court on Oct. 5.

Photo: In Friday's brief hearing, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi said he understood the charges against him.

The arrest was part of an FBI sting operation that began after an agent monitoring an online extremist Web site discovered Smadi espousing jihad against the U.S. more than six months ago.

As more undercover Arabic-speaking agents engaged him, Smadi, living illegally in the U.S. in the small town of Italy, about 45 miles south of Dallas, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and expressed a desire to kill Americans, authorities said.

In conversations with agents posing as members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, Smadi said he came to the U.S. to wage jihad, or holy war. He told agents he wanted to target military recruitment centers, but eventually settled on financial institutions.

"I want to destroy ... targets ... everything that helps America on its war on Arabs will be targeted," he told undercover agents in May.

In Jordan, Smadi's father told Agence France-Presse, the French news service, that his son was innocent and the accusation against him was "fabricated."

"The charges are false," said Maher Hussein Smadi, a ministry of agriculture engineer in the town of Kofranjeh, northwest of Amman.

"We as a family never believed in terrorism and we never believed in violence."

He added: "The FBI fabricated the entire thing to embarrass [President Barack] Obama because of his good relations with Muslims."

"They used my son, who is married to an American woman, because he apparently visited Islamist websites frequently."

He added that another son, Hussein, 18, is in California and has been arrested too. He could not give details but said it was in connection with the Dallas case.

According to AFP, Jordanian Information Minister Nabil Sharif said the 19-year-old was "put at a correctional facility in 2004 after he was arrested over theft and street-begging." Sharif said Jordanian records indicate that Smadi came to the United States in 2007, "but we don't know why he went there."

The U.S. Justice Department said Smadi was a Jordanian citizen staying in the United States illegally. But his father insisted that his son emigrated legally.

"Hosam suffered psychological problems after the death of his mother of cancer in 2007, when he decided to go to the United States to live and study with his friend. But regardless of these problems, I know my son is innocent."

The FBI sting culminated in Thursday's arrest after Smadi parked a 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, supplied by the FBI, in the garage of the emerald-green glass office tower that is home to many businesses, including a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage office.

Inside the SUV was a fake bomb, designed to appear similar to one used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Authorities say Smadi thought he could detonate it with a cellphone. After parking the vehicle, he got into another vehicle with one of the agents, and they drove several blocks away.

An agent offered Smadi earplugs, but he declined, "indicating that he wanted to hear the blast," authorities said. He then dialed the phone, thinking it would trigger the bomb, authorities said. Instead, the agents took him into custody.

He was scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate at 11 a.m.


'Continuing Threats'

Counterterrorism officials heralded the Dallas arrest as an example of the proactive effectiveness of a reorganized FBI in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"A coordinated undercover law enforcement action was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security in Washington.

This case serves as a reminder "of the continuing threats of terrorism we face as a nation and the FBI's resolve to meet those threats," said Robert Casey, special agent in charge of the Dallas FBI office.

ABOUT FOUNTAIN PLACE

Address: 1445 Ross Ave.
Height: 60 stories
Construction: 1984-86
Architect: I.M. Pei & Partners

Major Tenants:

•Wells Fargo Home Mortgage
•Bracewell & Giuliani – On March 31, 2005, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined the firm as a name partner.
•U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
•Fidelity National Title Insurance Co.
•Tenet Healthcare announced in August that it planned to relocate to Fountain Place.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert said local authorities were notified of the operation before it happened. "We were clearly communicated to that there was not going to be a danger to anybody," he said, praising cooperation between the law enforcement agencies.

“Clearly, this is a troubling sign of the world we all live in today and we are extremely grateful for the vigilance of the FBI,” Leppert said.

Shortly after news of Smadi's arrest was announced about 5:30 p.m., most workers at Fountain Place were just becoming aware of the incident.

"It's kind of unnerving to think this could have happened," said Stanley Spruiell, who works in an Environmental Protection Agency office on the sixth floor.

Although apparently not connected, the Dallas case comes in the wake of several recent high-profile terrorism arrests in Denver and New York and in a strikingly similar scheme in Illinois involving undercover agents providing an extremist with a fake bomb.

It's unclear on which extremist Web site authorities encountered Smadi. Agents and private counterterrorism researchers lurk in such sites monitoring jihadist trends.

Authorities said agents tried to convince Smadi that he could carry out his jihad without lives lost – including his own.

"Smadi aggressively responded that he was going to commit significant, conspicuous violence as his jihad," FBI Special Agent Tom Petrowski, who leads a Dallas counterterrorism squad focusing on al-Qaeda, wrote in an affidavit.

While under constant FBI supervision, Smadi also scoped out the Dallas National Guard Armory and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport but decided they were too secure.

He then settled on Fountain Place, one of the most recognizable buildings in Dallas' skyline.

"It is a trade building," he told the agents, saying he had planned to "bring down the building, God willing" on the anniversary of Sept. 11. Authorities said he later decided to do it after Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, which ended Sunday.


Arrested Sept. 11

On Sept. 11, the Ellis County Sheriff's Department arrested Smadi for having no driver's license or insurance. He paid a $550 fine. No other details were released.

Smadi worked at Texas Best Smokehouse in Italy, which is in Ellis County. He lived nearby, alone in a housing development made up of dozens of small, individual dome structures along U.S. Highway 77. One friend described his home as simple; neat, with a surround-sound system, laptop, weight bench, TV and a bed.

Authorities wearing bulletproof vests and FBI jackets converged on the property Thursday afternoon, neighbors said. Through gaps in the shuttered blinds, the living quarters appeared to have been cleaned out of furniture by Thursday night.

During the day, agents questioned neighbors about how long they knew Smadi and whether they knew anything about his Internet use.

Friends, who knew him as "Sam," said he lived there for about a year and that he was fun, easygoing and always willing to lend a hand. Several said he regularly offered them rides in his Honda sedan.

They were in disbelief at Thursday's news.

"This comes as a shock to us; he was just an awesome person," said friend Tabatha Rogers. "He was good to us."

He loved techno music, had earrings in both ears, and he was often seen wearing a belt buckle decorated with rhinestones that formed a gun. Rogers said he looked just like "your average American rock star."

Friends said he drank occasionally and smoked cigarettes.

One friend said they assumed he was from Texas, though they said they knew he was Muslim.

They said he was a cashier who worked long hours at the smokehouse. He liked to play with his neighbors' children.

"I still don't know how to wrap my head around it, as far as Sam doing something like this," said Kellye Kines, 20, who lives at the development.

"I love Sam, but I have no remorse for him if that's how he is," she said.


Classified Briefing

Photo: Friends, who knew him as "Sam," said Smadi was fun, easygoing and always willing to lend a hand. Several said he regularly offered them rides in his Honda sedan.

It's unclear how long Smadi has been in the U.S. Late Thursday, the FBI told key lawmakers that the suspect seems to have acted alone.

"The investigation determined Smadi was not affiliated with other terrorist organizations. That's good news," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, is among the handful of lawmakers who will receive a classified briefing today on the case, which could clarify if the Dallas case is part of a pattern.

"Car bombs are what they used in the embassies in Africa – classic terror-style attack. On the other hand, this could be one of these lone-wolf type things," McCaul said. "That's my hope."

But the spate of recent terrorism cases has raised immediate concerns. "There's a lot of activity out there," McCaul said, noting that "traditionally, al-Qaeda likes to test new presidents."

In 1993, five weeks after President Bill Clinton took office, al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center, led by mastermind Ramzi Yousef.

The Sept. 11 attacks that brought down the New York landmark and killed thousands came less than nine months into George W. Bush's presidency.

Jordanian diplomats in Washington are typically alerted by U.S. authorities when one of the kingdom's citizens is arrested. "So far we haven't received anything," embassy spokeswoman Merissa Khurma said Thursday night.

She had no information about this suspect or the Dallas allegations, but said that in general, "Jordan's position with regards to terror activities and terrorism in general is very clear. We have been on the forefront of the war on terror. We have and will continue to condemn any attacks, acts of terror, the killing of innocents."

Staff writers Mark Norris, Brandon Formby, Jon Nielsen, Jennifer Emily and Selwyn Crawford contributed to this report.


SUSPECT'S WORDS

"We shall attack them in their very own homes. Brother, by God, we shall attack them in a manner that hurts, an attack that shakes the world. Oh Brother, let the backsliders know that the time for their destruction has come."

"I want to destroy ... targets ... everything that helps America on its war on Arabs will be targeted."

"By God who created me, there will not be a retreat at all, even if they take me to Guantánamo for the rest of my life. I will never forget Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, or any land where the call of, 'There is no God but God, Muhammad is God's Messenger' is raised."

"It will shake the currently weak economy in the state and the American nation because this bank is one of the largest banks in this city."

"Millions of people would incur losses: unemployment, poverty, hunger, and a strike to the head of the government. Don't forget the psychological impacts for the loss of this beautiful building. ... Of course, our joy will be in the success of this operation."

SOURCE: FBI intercepts reported in court documents

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