N.Y. Federal Reserve Bomb Plotter Sentenced to 30 Years

A Bangladeshi man who tried to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb at the New York Federal Reserve was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 22, who was drawn into an undercover operation, was arrested in October after repeatedly attempting to set off fake explosives provided to him by federal agents. He pleaded guilty in February and today was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon in Brooklyn, New York, for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

“I am persuaded that the defendant was a serious threat to the safety of New Yorkers, of Americans,” Amon said during a hearing, imposing a sentence that was at the lower end of a recommended range of as much as life in prison.

On the day of his attempted bombing, while covering his face, wearing sunglasses and disguising his voice, Nafis had a federal agent posing as a co-conspirator record a video statement he made, saying “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom,” according to a criminal complaint.

In the courtroom today, Nafis, clean-shaven and wearing an over-sized khaki jail uniform, said he was grateful to the agents who caught him. He asked the judge to “please have mercy on me.”

‘I’m Ashamed’

“I’m ashamed,” he said. “I’m lost. I tried to do a terrible thing.”

The U.S. alleged that Nafis came to the U.S. in January 2012 with the intention of carrying out a terrorist attack. After a brief period at Southeast Missouri State University, he went to New York and tried to recruit others for his plot, prosecutors alleged.

From Bangladesh, he had brought recorded sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader killed in a U.S. drone strike, and instructions for making pressure cooker bombs similar to those used in the Boston Marathon attack, Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Loonam told the judge.

In surveillance footage from August 2012 shown in court today, Nafis was shown walking near tourists in the Wall Street area with a notebook and pen in his hands. He was assessing possible targets, Loonam said.

‘Jihadist Intentions’

“The defendant left no doubt with respect to his jihadist intentions,” Loonam said. “He was enthusiastic and was determined.”

His lawyer, Heidi Cesare, said Nafis has taken responsibility for his actions and is unlikely to pose a future threat.

Nafis grew up in a professional family in Bangladesh which was “not remotely radical,” Cesare said. Though loving, his parents were strict, isolating him from other children and sometimes beating him, in one instance rendering him temporarily mute, she said. At a college in Bangladesh, the formerly sheltered youth fell under the influence of radical friends and adopted their views, she said.

“Mr. Nafis has abandoned completely his former radical beliefs,” she said. A sentence of 20 years would allow him the potential of reuniting with his parents, she said.

Amon said Nafis appeared “impressionable,” noting his quick change of heart toward radical Islam.

Radical Islam

In a letter to the judge before his sentencing, Nafis said he “made a grave mistake” and had turned away from radical Islam.

Nafis said the bomb plan came about after a series of personal misfortunes, including his suspension from the Missouri university, an unsuccessful job hunt in Albany, New York, and disputes with relatives he was staying with in Queens. He turned to the idea of a “jihadist act” because suicide was forbidden in Islam, he said.

Nafis said his opinions changed after he was taken into custody. He said he studied the Koran and interacted with agents, jail staff and other inmates who were friendly to him. One agent gave his own jacket to Nafis when Nafis said he was cold, he wrote. A special housing unit staff member at the jail was “very kind to me” and provided helpful advice, he said.

“Now when I look back I hate myself,” he said. “I cannot imagine what I was going to do. I was totally out of my mind.”

The case is U.S. v. Nafis, 1:12-cr-00720, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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