Chemical Industry Vigilance Thwarts Terrorism

I'm sure a lot of you heard about the Saudi college student who was studying chemical engineering in Texas. He was quietly purchasing chemicals to build bombs and hide them inside of dolls and baby carriages. His plan was to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Texas home of former President, George W. Bush.

The 20-year-old Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari's plans were thwarted when chemical company, Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., reported his attempts to purchase suspicious chemicals to the FBI. At the same time shipping company, Con-Way Inc., also went to the local police in Lubbock, Texas, reporting unusual shipments on the part of Aldawsari. The FBI went into action and within a few weeks had all the information and evidence they needed to arrest him.

Aldawsari was trying to buy a little more than a tenth of a gallon of phenol which can then be used to make the explosive, trinitrophenol or TNP. It is about as destructive as TNT and it looks like Aldawsari would have been able to produce 15 pounds of explosive. That's the same amount used in each of the London subway attacks.

What is really interesting is that Aldawsari told Carolina Biological Supply that he was associated with a university and he was going to use the chemicals for "off campus" research. So, this was a classic case of "diversion" right out of the book on theft and diversion. He was misrepresenting his association and purpose to get the materials he wanted to purchase.

This is an interesting case where a student was able to come to this country legally and fly under the radar, living a fairly quiet lifestyle. Despite the fact that there is evidence he had been planning an attack on the U.S. for years before entering the country, he was still allowed to come to the U.S. Most of his friends and neighbors who were interviewed said that they didn't suspect anything.

In this case, it was a vigilant chemical company following the procedures that have been outlined by industry best practices and more recently the CFATS mandates that exposed these terrorist activities. It shows that the system does work and how important it is for all of us to be on the lookout for anything that doesn't seem quite right.

 

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