A Bangladeshi man was arrested on charges he plotted to bomb the New York Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan as part of a sting operation by federal authorities who provided the suspect with fake explosives.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested yesterday in an undercover effort after he attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb, according to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Located at 33 Liberty Street, the bank is just a few blocks from the site of the former twin towers at the World Trade Center, which were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Terrorists have tried time and again to make New York City their killing field,” New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday in a statement, adding that the city has faced 15 terror plots since the 2001 attacks. “Vigilance is our watchword now and into the foreseeable future.”
Some of the alleged terror plots, like this one, were disrupted by sting operations or informants, including a plan to bomb the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan in 2004, a 2007 conspiracy to destroy fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport and a scheme to bomb synagogues in the Bronx in 2009.
Almost half of the federal terrorism cases brought in the U.S. from 2009 to September 2011 involved informants, and at least 15 percent of those cases can be considered stings, according to the Terrorism Trial Report Card from the Center on Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law.
Defense lawyers and legal experts have said that such initiatives may constitute entrapment of individuals who were not predisposed to committing a crime. To prevail as a defense, the accused must show they would not have committed the crime without being urged on.
At least 10 terrorism defendants caught in sting operations since the Sept. 11 attacks have presented the entrapment defense in court proceedings, yet it hasn’t been successfully argued in a post-Sept. 11 trial, according to the center’s report, which was published in September 2011.
The government said yesterday that Nafis came to the U.S. in January with the intent to carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and sought out individuals to assist. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents posed as co-conspirators, the government said.
“It is important to emphasize that the public was never at risk in this case, because two of the defendant’s ‘accomplices’ were actually an FBI source and an FBI undercover agent,” Mary Galligan, acting head of the FBI’s New York office, said in a statement. “The FBI continues to place the highest priority on preventing acts of terrorism.”
Nafis is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and provide material support to the terrorism group al-Qaeda, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, New York. If convicted, he faces a sentence of as long as life in prison, according to the office.
Appearing yesterday in Brooklyn federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L Mann, Nafis wore a T-shirt and jeans and said little during the proceeding. He didn’t request bail. Heidi Cesare, his court-appointed defense lawyer, declined to comment to reporters after the brief hearing.
Nafis, who came to the U.S. using a student visa and has been living in Queens, New York, told an informant for the FBI in July that he wanted to wage “jihad” and had plans for a terror attack, according to a criminal complaint. He communicated with co-conspirators, including the informant, on the phone and on the social media website Facebook, according to the filing.
After Nafis expressed interest in receiving help from al-Qaeda for his plot, the informant referred the would-be bomber to an undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a member of the group, according to the complaint. At a meeting in September, Nafis told the agent that he hoped his attack would disrupt the presidential elections, according to the complaint.
Before Nafis was arrested yesterday, he and the agent brought a van loaded with inert explosive materials to the Fed, parked it, and went to a nearby hotel, where Nafis attempted to detonate the bomb using a cell phone, according to the complaint.
“The defendant thought he was striking a blow to the American economy. He thought he was directing confederates and fellow believers,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “At every turn, he was wrong, and his extensive efforts to strike at the heart of the nation’s financial system were foiled by effective law enforcement.”
Andrea Priest, a spokeswoman for the New York Fed, declined to comment.
The case is U.S. v. Nafis, 1:12-mj-00965, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).