Federal authorities Wednesday arrested a 21-year-old Bangladesh national living in Queens who claimed al-Qaida ties after FBI agents had supplied him with 1,000 pounds of fake explosives, foiling his plot to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan.
Authorities tracked Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who was living in Jamaica, for nearly four months before his arrest, according to a federal criminal complaint. Nafis, who according to the complaint said he wanted to "destroy America," was charged with attempting to provide al-Qaida with material support and use a weapon of mass destruction.
"The defendant came to this country intent on conducting a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and worked with single-minded determination to carry out his plan," said Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Authorities said Wednesday Nafis entered the country in January on a student visa. He was pursuing a bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo., a school official said, but sought a transfer in July.
Early that month, according to the criminal complaint, Nafis contacted a man who, unknown to him, was a federal informant. Nafis told him he'd come to the United States to wage "jihad." He said he had a co-conspirator in America and a "brother" in Bangladesh and that the aspiring terrorists and the informant should stay in touch, the complaint alleges.
Nafis and the informant began to communicate on Facebook. The informant learned that Nafis reportedly wanted to attack and kill an unnamed, high-ranking public official. Nafis told the informant that he had contacts with al-Qaida overseas who could help in terror plots, the complaint alleges.
Nafis told the informant that he wished to commit terrorism on a historical scale. "I want to do something that brothers coming after us can be inspired by," he said, the complaint states.
At some point in July, the informant told Nafis he knew a member of al-Qaida. He put Nafis in contact with the man, who was actually an undercover FBI agent. The man got Nafis in touch with another purported al-Qaida member, also an agent, who would help with the attack. By August, Nafis had decided to strike the New York Stock Exchange and was observed scouting the area, the complaint said.
Late in August, at a meeting in a Queens hotel room, Nafis asked the agent whether his plot had been sanctioned by al-Qaida, the complaint states. The agent told him yes. Shortly after, Nafis told the informant that he wanted to do the job alone, rather than with the informant and his co-conspirator, who the complaint states has since been arrested on charges of felony offenses not related to terrorism.
By mid-September Nafis had turned his attention to the New York Fed, which houses the world's largest gold repository. Its destruction, he told the agent, might disrupt the upcoming presidential election, the complaint said. "You know what, this election might even stop," Nafis said, according to the complaint.
The bomb assembly began in early October in a warehouse. The men met last Friday and unloaded roughly 20 50-pound bags of what Nafis thought was explosives. Nafis had with him an article he'd written that he hoped would be published in Inspire, an al-Qaida-affiliated magazine.
Nafis quoted the "beloved Sheik Osama bin Laden" to justify the killing of women and children in the planned attack, according to the complaint.
The undercover agent, who Nafis knew as Kareem, told the suspect earlier this week that they would be ready to proceed Wednesday. Nafis told him he was eager to get under way. They met early Wednesday and drove in a van to the warehouse.
During the drive, Nafis said he was willing to turn the attack into a suicide operation if police intervened, the complaint states. As they drove to the New York Fed, Nafis armed what he believed to be the bomb, which was in fact packed with harmless material.
After parking the van at the New York Fed, the men went to a nearby hotel where Nafis recorded a video statement to the American public. Covering his face, wearing sunglasses and disguising his voice, Nafis said: "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," the complaint said.
Nafis then repeatedly tried to explode the fake bomb by calling a cellphone he'd wired to a detonation device. Authorities captured the calls, confirmed the detonator had been activated and arrested him.
"The FBI took him seriously," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "I don't know if he was smart or dumb. But anyone motivated to buy explosives to blow up the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan has to be taken seriously."
Nafis was ordered to be held without bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann after a brief arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn. He did not enter a plea, nor was he required to, because the charges were in a criminal complaint by the government, not a grand jury indictment.
In a statement, the Justice Department said that area law enforcement agencies, working with the FBI New York Field Office's Joint Terrorism Task Force, made sure the van was not stopped by NYPD counterterror units at work in lower Manhattan, where a security zone that uses surveillance cameras and license plate readers is in place.
At a brief news conference in Manhattan, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly Wednesday said the arrest showed New York "continues to be very much in the mindframe of . . . terrorists."
Nafis, represented Wednesday by a Legal Aid attorney, faces life in prison if convicted.