What made two companies suspicious of Texas terrorist?

Last week I said that CBS Evening News had implied, without stating explicitly, that the North Carolina chemical supply company, Carolina Biological Supply, which reported Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari to the FBI, had done so at least in part because a man with a Muslim name was trying to buy a chemical, phenol, which is used in explosives.

However, from the Department of Justice’s own February 24 press release on Aldawsari’s arrest, it is impossible to determine what made the company suspicious. Also, a freight company, Con-Way Freight, briefly held the order for Aldawsari to pick up at its Lubbock office and reported him to the police. But we also are not told what made Con-Way suspicious.

Here is the relevant part of the press release:

The affidavit [filed in support of the complaint] alleges that on Feb. 1, 2011, a chemical supplier reported to the FBI a suspicious attempted purchase of concentrated phenol by a man identifying himself as Khalid Aldawsari. According to the affidavit, phenol is a toxic chemical with legitimate uses, but can also be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as T.N.P., or picric acid. The affidavit alleges that other ingredients typically used with phenol to make picric acid, or T.N.P., are concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids.

Aldawsari allegedly attempted to have the phenol order shipped to a freight company so it could be held for him there, but the freight company returned the order to the supplier and called the police. Later, Aldawsari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for “off-campus, personal research.” Frustrated by questions being asked over his phenol order, Aldawsari cancelled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol. The affidavit alleges that in December 2010, he successfully purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids.

The press release quotes acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas James T. Jacks:

“Yesterday’s arrest demonstrates the need for and the importance of vigilance and the willingness of private individuals and companies to ask questions and contact the authorities when confronted with suspicious activities. Based upon reports from the public, Aldawsari’s plot was uncovered and thwarted.”

That’s very nice, but it would be useful to know what it actually was that made the companies contact the authorities.

An article in the February 25 New York Times on Aldawsawi’s arrest is just as ambiguous on these matters as the press release.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has an article, “Package ‘profile’ led supplier, shipper to warn FBI of Aldawsari’s critical chemical buy,” which goes into far more detail than the press release or the New York Times on the circumstances of the two companies’ contacts with authorities. But this article also doesn’t say, other than in vague generalities, why the companies became suspicious.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 01, 2011 12:06 PM | Send

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