NY bomb plot: Family shocked at arrest

2012-10-18 14:01
This courtroom sketch shows Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, aged 21, centre, and his attorney Heidi Cesare, left, in Brooklyn Federal Court. (Elizabeth Williams, AP)

This courtroom sketch shows Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, aged 21, centre, and his attorney Heidi Cesare, left, in Brooklyn Federal Court. (Elizabeth Williams, AP)

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Dhaka — The Bangladeshi man accused of trying to bomb the Federal Reserve building in New York City was a banker's son from a middle class neighbourhood whose family says it was stunned by his arrest.

The FBI arrested Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis after he tried to detonate a fake 454kg car bomb, according to a criminal complaint.

His family said on Thursday that Nafis was a gentle man incapable of such actions.

"My son can't do it," said his father, Quazi Ahsanullah.

He called on the Bangladesh government to intervene to get his son back to his home country.

US authorities say Nafis considered targeting a high-ranking government official and the New York Stock Exchange before he raised the bar further by picking one of New York City's most fortified sites: The Federal Reserve.

Aspirations of martyrdom

The 21-year-old — armed with a cellphone he believed was rigged as a detonator — was grabbed by authorities on Wednesday after he made several attempts to blow up a fake 454kg bomb inside a vehicle parked next to the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan, according to a criminal complaint.

In a September meeting with an undercover agent posing as a fellow jihadist, Nafis explained he chose the Federal Reserve "for operational reasons", according to a criminal complaint.

Nafis also indicated he knew that choice would "cause a large number of civilian casualties, including women and children", the complaint said.

The plot was phony, but authorities alleged that Nafis' admiration of Osama bin Laden and aspirations for martyrdom were not.

The bank in New York, located at 33 Liberty Street, is one of 12 branches around the United States 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.

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.

No actual risk


As a result, 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 New York Police Department, where a network of thousands of private and police cameras watch for suspicious activity.

Authorities emphasised that the plot never posed an actual risk. There was no allegation that Nafis actually received training or direction from a real terrorist group.

However, they claimed the case demonstrated the value of using sting operations to neutralise young extremists eager to harm Americans.

"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, acting head of the FBI's New York office. "The defendant faces appropriately severe consequences."

Prosecutors say Nafis travelled to the US on a student visa in January to carry out an attack. In July, he contacted a confidential informant, telling him he wanted to form a terror cell and that he admired "Sheikh 'O'" — a reference to bin Laden, the criminal complaint said.

The defendant later sought assurances from an undercover agent posing as an al-Qaeda contact that the terrorist group would support the operation.

Influenced by al-Awlaki

"The thing that I want to ... ask you about is that, the thing I'm doing, it's under al-Qaeda?" he was recorded saying during a meeting in bugged hotel room in the Queens section of the city, according to the complaint.

In a September meeting in the same hotel room, Nafis "confirmed he was ready to kill himself during the course of the attack, but indicated he wanted to return to Bangladesh to see his family one last time to set his affairs in order", the complaint said.

Before trying to carry out the alleged terrorism plot, Nafis went to a warehouse to help assemble the bomb using inert material, according to a criminal complaint. He also told the undercover agent he was influenced by radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

He also asked an undercover agent to videotape him saying, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," the complaint said.

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 113km 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 Manhattan. 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.

- AP
Read more on:    us  |  security
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