Judge says Dallas bomb plot case to proceed

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

DALLAS – A Jordanian teenager accused of trying to blow up a Dallas skyscraper researched how to use a cell phone to detonate a bomb and recorded a 7-minute video he believed would be transmitted to Osama bin Laden, an FBI agent who oversaw the investigation testified Monday.

After the testimony in the probable-cause hearing for Hosam Maher Smadi, a magistrate judge found there was enough evidence for prosecutors to continue their case against the 19-year-old. Smadi is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Authorities arrested Smadi on Sept. 24, the day they say he parked a truck in the garage underneath the 60-story Fountain Place office building in downtown Dallas. Later, authorities said, he waited in a car at a safe distance from the Dallas tower and dialed a cell phone he thought would ignite a blast. At that point he was arrested.

FBI Special Agent Tom Petrowski testified Monday that Smadi wanted to return to the building after parking the truck, which was outfitted with what he thought was a car bomb provided by undercover agents. Smadi feared the truck wasn’t in the right location to ensure destruction of the entire building, Petrowski said.

An FBI language analyst found Smadi through an online extremist group, Petrowski said under cross-examination. Smadi’s comments stood out among the others because he indicated he was in the U.S. and seemed intent on conducting terror attacks. He asked for help in obtaining the tools needed for an attack, Petrowski said.

“We took him up on the invitation,” he said.

Two other law enforcement authorities working undercover — another FBI language analyst and a police officer who belongs to a task force — posed as al-Qaida sleeper cell members and communicated with Smadi, Petrowski said. During that time, agents said Smadi reiterated his intention to carry out a terrorist attack, according to an affidavit.

“By God who created me, there will not be a retreat at all, even if they take me to Guantanamo for the rest of my life,” the FBI said Smadi told an undercover agent in Arabic on March 19.

Smadi made a video in the undercover agents’ presence, Petrowski said, believing that as al-Qaida cell members they would forward it to bin Laden.

Petrowski said the agents learned that Smadi had been researching how to use a cell phone to detonate a bomb.

Investigators have determined Smadi acted alone and was not affiliated with any terrorist organizations. A search of Smadi’s apartment yielded no bombmaking materials or instructions. The FBI was still analyzing his computer, Petrowski said.

Peter Fleury, one of Smadi’s court-appointed attorneys, said after the hearing that the defense still has little information in the case. Prosecutors don’t have to turn over much of the evidence until after an indictment, which the government has 30 days from the arrest to obtain, Fleury said.

“We have got a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a scared 19-year-old kid.”

During the hearing, Smadi sat without handcuffs in an orange jumpsuit. He looked ahead as an Arabic interpreter sitting behind him spoke into his ear.

Jordan’s government has been following the case and remains in contact with U.S. authorities about it, Jordanian Embassy spokeswoman Merissa Khurma said. Smadi is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. So far no dates have been set in the case.

In Jordan, Smadi’s father, Maher Hussein Smadi, has insisted his son was innocent.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Smadi came to the United States legally in 2007 using a tourist visa but he overstayed.

Friends and acquaintances say Smadi and his brother came to the U.S. after their mother died. They lived in Santa Clara, Calif., before Smadi moved to tiny Italy, Texas, near Dallas.

There, Smadi was known as “Sam,” a kind, fun-loving guy who enjoyed dancing to techno music.

Neighbors say Smadi, a Muslim, let them know when he was fasting for religious reasons. But he also would occasionally drink alcohol — something prohibited in Islam. Petrowski testified there’s no indication Smadi belonged to a particular mosque or was connected to the mainstream Muslim community in north Texas.

Smadi worked as a cashier at a large gas station.

ICE officials would not say what aspects of Smadi’s case the federal agency might be investigating, but it’s likely examining how Smadi got a job and who hired him, since a tourist visa doesn’t entitle its holder to work in the U.S.

Mohamad Alhalwani, who operated the business where Smadi worked in Texas, said the manager who hired the young man reviewed his documents and saw he had legal status to work.

“We do not hire anybody illegally,” Alhalwani said.