Foreign Policy Blogs

Close to Home: The Downtown Dallas Bombing Plot

The targeted building and Hosam Smadi
The targeted building and Hosam Smadi

First off, apologies for the sparse posting recently. Before I post about some recent big events I’d like to shed some light on a lesser known plot that was set to occur in my hometown of Dallas, Texas in September of last year.

On September 24, 2009, a 19-year-old Jordanian named Hosam “Sam” Smadi, believed he was attempting to bomb an iconic skyscraper in downtown Dallas. According to the Dallas Morning News, FBI agents encountered Smadi in January of last year in an online Islamic extremist forum that the Bureau monitored. At one point, he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and stated, “I am in America and I can strike at their interests in their midst.” Arabic-speaking FBI operatives spent months trying to dissuade Smadi from violent acts, however, he was determined to commit violence and began researching possible targets. After considering airports, military recruiting centers, and credit card companies, Smadi chose the Fountain Place building for its prominence in the Dallas skyline and because it contained banks and government offices. The FBI supplied Smadi with a fake bomb and he drove an SUV carrying what he thought was an armed explosive into the parking garage under the 60-story building, right in the heart of downtown. Smadi then drove off with an undercover FBI agent and dialed a cellphone to detonate the bomb. He was promptly arrested. After his arrest, authorities found a gun, ammunition, and travel documents in his home.

The most troubling aspect of the whole story is that Smadi had no history of extremism. His family claims he came to the U.S. in April 2007 because he believed it was the land of opportunity. Smadi’s family in Jordan believes the FBI enticed him to become an extremist. His father stated at his home in Ajloun, “Hosam was turned into an extremist with the help of the FBI… They deceived him… They played with him.” But Smadi has a past filled with emotional distress, losing his mother to cancer when he was just 16 years old. Since his arrest, Smadi has been put on medication for schizophrenia and depression, and Smadi’s attorney is hoping to obtain a decreased sentence because of his illnesses.

Smadi’s family most likely does not see the connection between mental illness and terrorism, however the Dallas Morning News says many experts in the U.S. and the Middle East believe would-be terrorists often arise from among the traumatized, the dislocated and the disillusioned. Husein Khuzaii, a sociology professor in Jordan affirmed, “a young person with no guidance and no monitoring can be easily turned into a radical, especially nowadays with the thousands of Web sites linked to extremist groups.” Nowadays, terrorism experts are realizing that sometimes a past filled with anger, depression, and violence can be just as clear a predictor of terrorist leanings as a history of extremism.

On May 27, 2010, Smadi entered a guilty plea. Regarding the plea, David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security in Washington, stated the following:

Today’s guilty plea underscores the continuing threat we face from lone actors who, although not members of any international terrorist organization, are willing to carry out acts of violence in this country to further the terrorist cause… I applaud the many agents, analysts and prosecutors responsible for this successful investigation and prosecution.

Kris leads me to an important point. The threat of the “lone wolf” terrorist is undeniably continuing, if not escalating, in the U.S. and not only in Washington, D.C. and New York City. The case of Smadi is not well-known across the country because it was an FBI success. In this instance, everyone would have to agree that the system did work. If a real opportunity had presented itself to the very troubled Smadi, this could easily have been another close-call like the Times Square attempt, or much worse.