The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Texas Terror Update

Posted on | February 27, 2011 | 9 Comments

I was getting ready to leave for my Ohio trip when Eric Dondero of Libertarian Republican called Thursday to tell me about his scoop about Texas terrorism suspect Khalid Aldawsari, who wrote in 2009 that he was “falling in love” with his English-language tutor, Sarah Rice Stender. I took an hour to put up a quick post, and was on the road when Eric called with an update — a Chattanooga TV station had confirmed that Aldawsari “previously studied at an English language center at Vanderbilt University” — so I called Wombat and asked him to add an update.

There wasn’t time, however, to try to put this scoop into context. Who is Sarah Stender and what (if anything) was the significance of Aldawsari’s infatuation with her?

Bryan Preston of PJM was the first to identify Aldawsari’s online profile, including the Saudi student’s Facebook account and blog, From Far Away. Dondero went through the blog to locate the post in which Aldawsari wrote about Stender:

I am falling in love of her…..
She is goregeous that I cann’t forget her just right away…
I am asking Allah the great to covert her to Islam and marry me.

What was at first confusing was that Stender’s Facebook profile (she was Facebook “friends” Aldawsari) listed her affiliation with Vanderbilt University. Initial news accounts reported that Aldawsari had attended Texas Tech, and later transferred to Southern Plains College near Lubbock, but it was not until later that his English-language studies at Vanderbilt were reported.

Subsequent reporting has actually confused the situation somewhat, because it appears there was more than one Sarah Stender at Vanderbilt. The New York Post identified Stender as “a 58-year-old former professor of medicine” at Vanderbilt. But that doesn’t match the Facebook profile of Aldawsari’s Sarah (which has recently been taken offline) and it seems unlikely that an 18-year-old would have been lovestruck by a middle-aged professor, calling her “gorgeous.”

Online records show another Sarah Stender, from Memphis, who received her bachelor of arts in political science and religious studies in May 2010, and it is almost certainly this Sarah Stender — perhaps the daughter or niece of the professor? — with whom Aldawsari was infatuated. Note that in his blog post about Sarah, Aldawsari describes her as being interested in talking about religion, so this makes sense.

The British Daily Mail mentions Stender in a long feature about Aldawsari, but so far no one has interviewed Stender to learn her impressions of the Saudi student who expressed such ardent interest in her. Was this just a transient crush? Did Aldawsari ever make overt advances toward Stender? If so, how did she respond? And if she rejected him, did this affect his attitude toward the U.S.?

These questions remain unanswered. Meanwhile, the New York Post reports today:

A powerful Saudi chemical company aligned with the oil-rich kingdom’s royal family were the financial bakers of the Texas student who plotted a host of brutal bomb attacks on targets in New York and around the country.
Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, a huge conglomerate that is largely controlled by the Arab state’s ruling family and run by Prince Saud bin Thunayan Al-Saud, paid for a scholarship that allowed terrorist Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari to go to Nashville to learn English.

And in a Saturday article that mentioned Aldawsari’s infatuation with Stender (but did not name her), the New York Times reported:

According to Mr. Aldawsari’s journal, he had planned to carry out attacks for years, long before he came to the United States on a student visa in September 2008. He wrote that he viewed his scholarship and his enrollment in Texas Tech University as a means to put him in place and give him the resources to attack targets. “And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad,” he wrote.

If true, then Aldawsari’s entire three-year “student” sojourn in America — including his English lessons with Sarah Stender — was merely a ruse, a means to a deadly end.


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