To his friends in the small Texas town of Italy, 19-year-old Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was known as "Sam" -- a kind, fun-loving guy who enjoyed dancing to techno music.
So his neighbors in the town of about 2,000, about 45 miles south of Dallas, said they were stunned Friday after learning he'd been charged with plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.
"It's crazy because I still can't believe the Sam that I know doing anything like that," said Tabatha Rogers, 19, who lives in the same complex of dome-shaped economy homes near Interstate 35. "He was just a real good guy."
Smadi, a Jordanian national, was arrested Thursday after federal officials said he placed what he believed to be an explosives-laden truck in a parking garage beneath the 60-story Fountain Place tower in Dallas. He was charged with trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Smadi made his first court appearance Friday in Dallas, where he was appointed a public defender and Arabic translator. He remained in jail on Friday and will next appear in court on Oct. 5. Defense attorney Richard Anderson said he has "little to say" on the case, other than his client was scared, far from family and dealing with a language barrier.
Rogers said Smadi had a thick accent but spoke English well. He worked as a cashier at a large gas station that also houses a barbecue joint, a fast-food restaurant and a convenience store not far from the home he rented for about $100 a week.
Neighbors said Smadi, who is Muslim, often let them know he was fasting but also would occasionally drink alcohol and smoke. He didn't talk about political or religious issues, they said.
"He was a mixture between wannabe gangster and wannabe rock star," said Rogers. "Everybody loved Sam. He liked to hang out and have fun."
One friend said she helped him get a cell phone.
"He went up there and he didn't have a social security card so he couldn't do it, so I told him I would," Kellye Kines said. "I thought he was legal."
But a former co-worker had a different impression of Smadi. Megan Whitney, 23, who grew up in Italy and now lives in Albany, N.Y., recalled getting upset in one conversation she had with him after Smadi said what happened to the U.S. on Sept. 11 "was OK."
"You could see the evil in him," said Whitney, who said she worked with Smadi for a couple months about a year ago at a convenience store.
In Jordan, Smadi's father insisted his son is innocent. He said Smadi and his brother, Hussein, 18, came to the United States in 2007 on a student visa. U.S. immigration authorities did not comment on Smadi's status, citing confidentiality.
"The issue is completely fabricated and in our family we never condoned terrorism," Maher Hussein Smadi said from his home in Jordan.
He said Hussein Smadi also was arrested in California. He would not elaborate, but a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office said Hussein Smadi pleaded not guilty to possession of a controlled substance at a Sept. 8 arraignment.
A manager of a California apartment complex said Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, his brother, and another relative lived in the Santa Clara building for a few months until February 2008 when a fire damaged the apartment. Joe Redzovic said Smadi told him he had a job lined up in Dallas and his brother was moving to another Silicon Valley neighborhood.
Redzovic said even before the fire there had been complaints about noise, including loud music, and the brothers had been asked to move out.
David South, who owns the housing complex in the Texas town of Italy, said Smadi had been a tenant since April 2008. He had a California driver's license when he signed the lease and passed background checks, South said. Though he never had any complaints about Smadi, South said the 19-year-old recently had fallen six weeks behind on rent and was in the process of moving out when he was arrested.
"It's just something we'd rather not had happened in Italy," said Jeff Jaynes, a 70-year-old barber who was waiting downtown for the Italy High School homecoming parade to start. "This is a good place to hide -- a little, dead town."