Suspected Terrorist Arrested for Bomb Plot
(NBC New York) A suspected terrorist parked a van packed with what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb next to the Federal Reserve building in Lower Manhattan and tried to detonate it Wednesday morning before he was arrested in a terror sting operation, authorities said.
The suspect, 21-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, is a Bangladeshi national who came to the U.S. on a student visa in January for the specific purpose of launching a terror attack here, authorities said. He allegedly told an undercover agent last month that he hoped the attack would disrupt the presidential election, saying “You know what, this election might even stop,” according to the criminal complaint against him.
“He clearly had the intent of creating mayhem here,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Wednesday, saying his actions went “way past aspirational.”
The complaint said Nafis wrote a statement claiming responsibility for what he thought would be the Fed attack, saying he wanted to “destroy America” by going after its economy. He referred to “our beloved Sheikh Osama bin Laden” in the statement, which was stored on a thumb drive.
He also proposed various other targets beyond the Fed building at 33 Liberty St., just blocks from the World Trade Center site, prosecutors said. He considered targeting a “high-ranking U.S. official” as well as the New York Stock Exchange.
Kelly said he knew who the official was but refused to name the person, saying only that any details not in the complaint would be revealed in future court proceedings.
Nafis, who was living with either a friend or relative in Jamaica, Queens, attended Southeast Missouri State University for a semester, studying cybersecurity as a sophomore from January through May 2012, a school spokesman said. He sought a transfer to a New York City ESL program and left Missouri after the spring, according to a law enforcement official.
He allegedly sought out al-Qaida contacts to help him, unknowingly recruiting an FBI source in the process. At that point, the FBI and NYPD began monitoring him as he developed the plot, prosecutors said.
An undercover FBI agent posed as an al-Qaida facilitator, supplying him with 20 50-pound bags of what he thought were explosives to use in building his bomb. Nafis also visited the Lower Manhattan site multiple times as he planned the attack, officials said.
The complaint said he told an agent in July that he wanted “something very big … that will shake the whole country.”
Prosecutors say Nafis met the agent Wednesday morning and put the bomb inside a van before driving to the Fed building, assembling the detonator while he drove.
The pair parked the van by the Fed, got out and walked to a hotel, where Nafis covered his face, put on sunglasses and recorded a video statement he meant to be released after the attack. He then tried to detonate the bomb through a cell phone detonator, officials said.
Law enforcement officials stress that the plot was a sting operation monitored by the FBI, Homeland Security and NYPD and the public was never at risk. The materials he believed were explosives had been rendered inoperable, officials said.
Nafis was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. His attorney declined comment after a court appearance.
“Attempting to destroy a landmark building and kill or maim untold numbers of innocent bystanders is about as serious as the imagination can conjure,” said Mary Galligan, FBI acting assistant director in charge.
At the Jamaica home where Nafis was staying, federal officials removed boxes of personal items. Owner Rafiqul Islam said Nafis had been staying with his second-floor tenants for about two months, and he was told he was related to the family. The tenants didn’t answer their door and their apartment was dark.
“I didn’t notice anything, he spoke to me very quietly,” he said. “He said he was going to be studying here.”
The Fed building on Liberty Street is one of 12 branches around the country that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, make up the Federal Reserve System that serves as the central bank of the United States. It sets interest rates.
The Federal Reserve is one of the most fortified buildings in the city, smack in the middle of a massive security effort headed by the NYPD where a network of thousands of private and police cameras watch for suspicious activity.
The department uses sophisticated programs that can search for suspicious activity, like an object in one place for a long time, at the building modeled after London’s “ring of steel.” The analytic software also is designed to take video and catalog it according to movements, shapes and colors, so officers can set parameters to search the system for, say, a suspicious van.
The Fed is also home to the world’s largest accumulation of gold, according to the bank’s website. Dozens of governments and central banks store a portion of their gold reserves in high-security vaults deep beneath the building. In recent years, it held 216 million troy ounces of gold, or more than a fifth of all global monetary gold reserves, making it a bigger bullion depository than Fort Knox.
The federal case was the latest where a terrorism plot against the city turned out to be a sting operation.
Four men were convicted in 2009 in a plot to bomb synagogues and shoot down military planes with missiles – a case that began after an FBI informant was assigned to infiltrate a mosque in Newburgh, about 70 miles north of New York City. The federal judge hearing the case said she was not proud of the government’s role in nurturing the plot.
In 2004, a Pakistani immigrant was arrested and convicted for a scheme to blow up the subway station at Herald Square in Midtown. His lawyers argued that their client had been set up by a police informant who showed him pictures of Iraq abuse to get him involved in an attack against civilians.
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