The New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have arrested a Bangladeshi youth for allegedly attempting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement on Wednesday following the arrest of Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, that he had been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda. He faces life sentence in prison if convicted.
The FBI said on Wednesday morning (evening in Bangladesh) Nafis parked a van laden with 'explosives' in front of the bank in Manhattan and went to the adjacent Millennium Hilton Hotel. From there, he repeatedly tried to set off the mobile phone detonator of the 1000-pound bomb. However, it did not explode as the explosive was fake.
The NYPD said that Nafis was led on by an undercover FBI agent into their trap. He was under surveillance since July after he tried to search out reliable associates to carry out the attack on behalf of al Qaeda.
According to the complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, Nafis travelled to the United States in January 2012 under a student visa.
Once in New York, he claimed to be in contact with al Qaeda members overseas, although federal agents found no evidence that he was working for al Qaeda or that he was directed by the organisation, according to Reuters, who quoted a US official seeking anonymity.
The complaint also said that Nafis planned to create an anarchy that could upset the US economy. He initially planned to kill a high-ranking government official, whom the US official identified as President Barack Obama. Later, he changed the plan and targeted the Reserve Bank, New York Stock Exchange and the US Military base in Baltimore.
To create a cell to help him carry out the bombing, Nafis began to seek out recruits, eventually bringing on board an undercover agent working for the FBI. The infiltrator supplied him with the fake explosives to ensure that the bomb did not go off and catch Nafis red-handed.
White House Spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama had been briefed about the arrest.
"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, FBI Acting Assistant Director-in-charge. "The defendant faces appropriately severe consequences."
Bangladesh's Ambassador in Washington Akramul Quader and UN Resident Representative A K Momen said that they had found out that Nafis lived in the 'Jamaica' suburb of New York, which housed mostly Bangladeshis. They are trying to find out more details and are checking whether he was a Bangladeshi in the first place.
Meanwhile, his arrest has created more discomfort for the Bangladeshis living in the US.
After the 1/11 attack in 2011, US citizens with origin in Bangladesh, said to be a 'moderate Muslim country', have been under surveillance.
Later, Bangladeshis Ehsanul Islam Sadequi and Mosharraf Hossain were jailed for plotting two attacks in Georgia.
The story of Nafis has been the top news in the US media since his arrest on Wednesday, increasing concern of Bangladeshis in the US.
International terrorist networks were still engaged in plots to launch attacks in the US, Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Peter T King of Seaford, who is currently serving his 10th term in the US House of Representatives, told reporters after Nafis' arrest.
Ambassador Quader told bdnews24.com, "Bangladesh's name is everywhere in the media now. We've communicated with the State Department to get the name of the arrested youth's father and his address. We also want to know where he was studying."
"At first, we'll have to be sure about his citizenship. He may not be a Bangladeshi despite carrying a Bangladeshi passport. Rohingyas are also collecting Bangladeshi passports," he added.
UN Resident Representative Momen told bdnews24.com, "Even if Nafis is a Bangladeshi, it is a separate story. The people and the government of Bangladesh do not believe in terrorism."
In an initial appearance in the federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Nafis wore a plain brown crew-neck T-shirt, dark-coloured jeans and sneakers. He barely spoke during the brief hearing, mumbling answers of "yes" to questions from US Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann.
According to the criminal complaint, after considering several targets for attack, Nafis decided to focus on the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan, which stands like a limestone and sandstone fortress atop what is believed to be one of the world's largest stockpiles of gold.
His search for recruits eventually brought Nafis to the undercover FBI agent.
The two met on Wednesday morning and travelled by van to a New York warehouse, where Nafis assembled what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb, before driving to the Federal Reserve Bank, among the most secure and guarded buildings in Manhattan.
After parking near the bank, Nafis walked to a nearby hotel and recorded a video statement in which he said, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," according to the FBI.
Nafis was arrested in the hotel as he repeatedly attempted to detonate the inert bomb, the FBI said.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose department was part of the operation, objected to suggestions that Nafis' plans were crude and bumbling.
"I don't see how you characterise (him as) unsophisticated; I mean he was arrested, but he clearly had the intent to create mayhem here," Kelly told reporters.
Other FBI sting operations this year have netted at least one foreign suspect as well as some from the United States.
In February, a 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested near the US Capitol wearing a vest he believed was full of al Qaeda-supplied explosives, and charged in an attempted suicide bombing of the Congress.
Five self-described anarchists in the Cleveland area were arrested in May and accused of plotting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge. An undercover FBI agent had sold the men inoperable detonators and plastic explosives.