How the FBI got its man: the New York terror plot which was a trap
Nikhil Kumar is The Independent's New York correspondent. He was formerly assistant editor on the foreign desk and has also done a variety of jobs on the city desk, where he wrote about markets, commodities and other business and economics topics.
Thursday 18 October 2012
Literally and figuratively, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York sits at the heart of the US financial system; the clearing house for billions of dollars worth of deals, the 22 storey limestone and sandstone structure rises up from a narrow street in the city's financial district, standing only a handful of blocks away from the site of the World Trade Centre towers that were attacked on 11 September, 2001. Five years ago, it was here, deep inside this citadel of finance, that the reigning high-priests of American capitalism gathered to seal the fate of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers investment bank.
But a very different kind of visitor is alleged to have pulled up on Wednesday morning and parked a van next to the building on Liberty Street.
According to US authorities, 21 year old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, accompanied by an undercover FBI agent posing as an accomplice, had come prepared to strike a blow to America - or so he thought.
In the back, Naifs had assembled a 1,000-pound bomb, which, the FBI claims, he planned to detonate at the doorstep of the Bank on behalf of al-Qaeda. The Feds say they got there first and planted a dud.
The way the Americans tell it, the Bangladeshi national had arrived in the US in January, on the face of it an innocuous international student pursuing a course in cybersecurity at Southeast Missouri University. But, according to the official narrative, his mind was already preoccupied with an altogether more sinister plot.
The suspected would-be terrorist soon attempted to put together what the FBI says was meant to be a terror cell.
Local reports suggest that he did this by attempting to recruit people online. This is when the ploy is said to have fallen apart. Unwittingly, Nafis is said to have come into contact with an FBI source in July. Among other things, he is said to told this source that he admired the magazine "starting with 'I'", which was understood by the source to mean the al-Qaeda linked publication Inspire. Next he was put in touch with an undercover agent posing as an "al-Qaeda facilitator", who, after an alleged request from the accused, supplied him with the dud explosives.
"The defendant came to this country intent on conducting a terrorist attack... and worked with single-minded determination to carry out his plan," Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said as the plot came to light.
To begin with, however, it is alleged that the target remained uncertain. The 21 year old is said to have considered a number of options, including the New York Stock Exchange and a high-ranking US official, whom the authorities did not identify.
Later reports suggest that he may have been thinking of President Obama. Eventually, he settled on the Federal Reserve Building. "I don't want something that's like, small. I just want something big. Something very big ... that will shake the whole country," he is alleged to have told the undercover agent.
Considering his plans to be on track, Nafis is alleged to have met the undercover agent on Wednesday morning and with him, reported to have driven up to a Long Island warehouse. Along the way, the accused is alleged to have confessed to a plan B - a suicide bombing - if the van-bomb failed.
Up at the warehouse, he assembled what he thought was a working bomb fitted with a remote detonating device, and, with his accomplice in tow, drove down to Liberty Street. From the official FBI statement and the court complaint, it is unclear who was behind the steering wheel. Today, Nafis's father, Quasi Mohammed Ahsanullah, who was identified as a banker in some accounts, denied the allegations. "This is nothing but a conspiracy. There is still a racist conspiracy there," he told reporters in Dhaka. "He could not even drive a car. How was he caught with van?"
But according to the official account, after parking the car by the building, the suspect is alleged to have gone to a room in what was reported to be the Millennium Hilton hotel nearby. There, with his face covered and eyes shielded with sunglasses, he is said to have recorded a video proclaiming responsibility for bomb, before attempting to remotely detonate the explosive via a mobile phone. This is when US officials claim to have pounced, foiling the 15th plot to attack New York since 9/11 and averting what, had it succeed, would have been a crushing blow to the city and the country at large.
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