An accused terrorist who had eyed New York City as a possible target for a bomb attack appeared in federal court Friday in Texas, and his lawyer said he would plead not guilty.
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who was attending college near Lubbock, Texas, was arrested on attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Rod Hobson, his attorney, said in a statement that the "eyes of the world are on this case" and how Aldawsari is treated.
"This is not 'Alice in Wonderland,' where the Queen said 'First the punishment then the trial,'" Hobson's statement said. "This is America, where everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, due process, effective representation of counsel and a fair trial."
Judge Nancy Koenig asked the 20-year-old Aldawsari if he understands the charges against him and ordered him to remain in custody until a March 11 detention hearing.
Prosecutors allege Aldawsari had secretly planned for years to launch a terrorist attack. He described in his journal plans to travel to New York City, place bombs in rental cars for remote detonation, and leave the vehicles in different places during rush hour, according to court documents.
He had also researched a network of online street cameras that deliver real-time images of New York streets, prosecutors said.
"After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad," the student wrote.
He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Aldawsari bought explosive chemicals online, the Justice Department said Thursday. His other plans included hiding bomb materials inside dolls and baby carriages to blow up dams, nuclear plants or the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, the Justice Department said Thursday.
"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.
It was not immediately clear whether Aldawsari had hired a lawyer. 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.
A federal public defender in Lubbock, David Sloan, said he would be at Friday's court appearance in case U.S. Magistrate Nancy Koenig needed to appoint him to represent Aldawsari.
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 orders by Aldawsari to the FBI on Feb. 1.
Separately, Con-way Freight, a 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.
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.
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.