Amarillo Man Sentenced to 11+ Years in Prison for Use of WMD
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 was sentenced today to more than 11 years in federal prison on a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) charge, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton.
Erfan Salmanzadeh, a 34-year-old naturalized citizen of the U.S. born in Iran, was charged via criminal complaint in July 2021 and indicted the following month. He pleaded guilty in December 2022 to use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and was sentenced today to 135 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk.
“This defendant stashed a highly volatile substance inside his home, putting his whole neighborhood at risk. Moreover, he apparently contemplated using it to inflict violence on a local school,” said U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton. “The Justice Department is always alert for this type of threat. We urge the community to partner with us by reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement so that we can swiftly address any potential danger.”
“The FBI would like to thank the Amarillo Police Department, 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 for partnering with us on this investigation,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough. “Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable for possessing a device with the potential to cause significant damage and harm innocent people. Intervention from concerned neighbors allowed us to move quickly and prevent a violent attack. We ask that the public continue to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
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 admitted 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.
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 prosecuted the case with assistance provided by the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.