Bangladeshi student and al-Qaida aspirant Quazi Mohammad Nafis pleaded guilty Thursday in Brooklyn federal court to attempting to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan last year, but said he was sorry.
"I no longer support violent jihad," said Nafis, 21, speaking to U.S. District Judge Carol Amon in a meek, boyish voice. "I deeply and sincerely regret my involvement."
Nafis, a banker's son with a middle-class upbringing, came to the United States on a student visa and allegedly sought partners on the Internet to join in a terrorist act but ended up connecting with an informant and an undercover FBI agent.
Authorities said he wanted to connect with al-Qaida and was exposed to the group's propaganda but had no actual ties to the group. He eventually drove a truck he believed held a live 1,000-pound bomb to the bank building at 33 Liberty St. near Wall Street and tried to detonate it with a cellphone.
In his statement in court, Nafis addressed questions about whether the FBI undercover agent entrapped him in a sting operation that he never would have carried out on his own.
"I had an intention to commit a violent jihadist act before I ever met the informant or the undercover officer involved in this case," he said. "I am the person who chose to target the Federal Reserve Bank."
Under his plea deal with the government, Nafis admitted to attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction, a crime that can carry up to a life sentence. Federal guidelines call for him to get between 30 years and life, potentially putting him back on the street in his 50s.
Unlike three men recently prosecuted in Brooklyn who plotted to detonate a bomb in the subways, Nafis does not face a mandatory life sentence. Officials said that penalty is limited to situations involving actual loss of life or cases involving actual explosive devices -- not a fake bomb.
After the plea, Nafis' defense lawyer said his regret was sincere, but she would wait until sentencing to explain the forces that led her client to a violent radicalism that has not been enduring.
"He pleaded guilty because he is guilty, and he wants to take responsibility for what he did," federal public defender Heidi Cesare said. "He does not blame the FBI or the NYPD for his behavior. He truly and sincerely regrets what he did."
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch took no position on whether Nafis' professed remorse was sincere. "We take what he said at face value," Lynch said. "It's up to the judge to evaluate his level of remorse."
Amon set sentencing for May 30.