An Amarillo man who set off a bomb in his backyard, stashed a suicide vest in his alleyway, and privately plotted to blow up a local high school pleaded guilty today to a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) charge, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Erfan Salmanzadeh, a 33-year-old naturalized citizen of the U.S. born in Iran, pleaded guilty on Monday to use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
According to plea papers, Mr. Salmanzadeh admitted to law enforcement that he used homemade triacetone triperoxide (TATP) to blow up an Xbox in his back yard on July 26, 2021. At the time, he claimed he wanted to see how much damage such an explosion would cause.
He further admitted that after law enforcement arrived at the home to investigate the explosion – which was reported by neighbors who heard the blast – he flushed a gallon-sized jar of TATP powder down the toilet and concealed a suicide vest and a nail bomb in a dumpster in his alleyway:
According to plea papers, bomb technicians collected residual TATP – an extremely unstable explosive that reacts violently to friction and shock – from the defendant’s porcelain toilet bowl. They also discovered TATP residue on a white PVC pipe hidden in his bedroom closet. Officers recovered the suicide vest, which contained several sewn pockets filled with red cylindrical taped tubes labeled “dynamite,” and nail bomb from the dumpster.
Law enforcement later reviewed his electronic devices, including a video Mr. Salmanzadeh recorded on July 22, 2021, threatening to blow up a local high school.
“We are going to blast the school,” he said in Farsi, before displaying the nail bomb filled with shrapnel, the suicide vest filled with pipes labeled dynamite, a suitcase filled with container labeled explosives, and a backpack filled with bottles labeled explosives to the camera.
Officers uncovered several other videos showing Mr. Salmanzadeh conducting test explosions and several journals that contained notes and formulas related to the production of explosives.
In plea papers, Mr. Salmanzadeh admits he used the internet to conduct all the research he needed to construct TATP and WMD. He also admitted he used the internet to purchase a plane ticket to California on July 28, 2021, to avoid detection by law enforcement after a bombing.
“Armed with internet research, this defendant was able to create homemade explosives capable of wreaking mass casualties – casualties he dreamed of inflicting on innocent high schoolers,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “Without vigilant neighbors who reported the sound of the explosion to authorities and immediate law enforcement intervention, this may have ended in tragedy. Instead, the community is a little bit safer today as this defendant is being held accountable for his criminal activity.”
“The FBI’s top priority continues to be preventing a terrorist attack in the United States. The defendant had a device with the potential to cause significant damage and harm innocent people, and we would like to thank our partners at the Amarillo Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Randall County Sheriff’s Office, and Homeland Security Investigations for their collaboration on this investigation,” said FBI Dallas Acting Special Agent in Charge James Dwyer.
Mr. Salmanzadeh now faces up to life in federal prison.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office and the Amarillo Police Department conducted the investigation with the assistance of the North Texas Joint Terrorism Taskforce, Homeland Security Investigations, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Randall County Sheriff’s Office, and the Amarillo Fire Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Haag and Josh Frausto are prosecuting the case with assistance provided by the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.