Online chats led to Texas terror suspect’s arrest

Authorities say the Fountain Place skyscraper in Dallas, Texas, was targeted in an alleged bomb plot.
A terror suspect accused of plotting the bombing of a skyscraper in Dallas, Texas, drew authorities’ scrutiny because of his violent posts on an extremist chat site, court papers indicate.

The suspect, a 19-year-old Jordanian, was arrested Thursday in a sting operation, the FBI said. Federal officials said Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, who entered the United States illegally and lived in Texas, tried to set off an explosive attached to a vehicle at the base of the 60-story Fountain Place office tower. Long before authorities arrested Smadi, however, they were reading his posts on the extremist chat site, according to a court affidavit. “Smadi was discovered by the FBI within an online group of extremists,” the affidavit says. “Among many others in the group who espoused and endorsed violence, Smadi stood out, based on his vehement intention to actually conduct terror attacks in the United States.” Undercover officers then contacted Smadi, posing as members of an al Qaeda sleeper cell. After months of conversations, the agents considered Smadi a legitimate threat. Watch panelists discuss recent arrests of terror suspects Smadi picked several targets to attack, including the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, before deciding on the skyscraper, which houses Wells Fargo Bank, the affidavit says. It details a conversation that Smadi allegedly had with authorities:

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“I have decided to change the target,” he said, according to the affidavit. “God willing, the strike will be certain and strong. It will shake the currently weak economy in the state and the American nation, because this bank is one of the largest banks in the city.” Smadi said many times that he wanted to commit violent jihad and he was a soldier of Osama bin Laden, the affidavit says. Undercover agents tried to get Smadi to “re-evaluate his interpretation of jihad,” saying there were nonviolent ways to commit the act. But “Smadi again communicated his continuing commitment for violent jihad,” the affidavit says. After casing the bank in July, Smadi told an undercover agent he would target it, according to authorities. Initially, Smadi told the agent he wanted to bomb the bank on September 11, but decided to wait until the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ended on September 20, authorities said. After receiving what he thought was an explosive from an undercover agent, Smadi drove a car with the fake bomb into a parking garage under the skyscraper, authorities said. Smadi thought he could detonate the bomb by dialing his cell phone. When he dialed, the number rang a phone in authorities’ possession, the affidavit says. Counterterrorism officials on Thursday arrested Smadi before publicly disclosing a similar but unrelated terrorism sting arrest Wednesday in Springfield, Illinois. A federal law enforcement official familiar with the cases said authorities feared word of the Illinois arrest could tip off the Texas suspect to the sting operation. Smadi will make his first court appearance before a federal magistrate judge Friday in Dallas. A charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction carries a potential sentence of life in prison, and a $250,000 fine.

In the unrelated Illinois case, undercover FBI agents foiled a plot to bomb Springfield’s federal building, authorities said. In neither case did authorities find ties to known terrorist groups.