Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis
New York, Oct. 18: A law enforcement official has claimed that a Bangladeshi youth arrested on the charge of trying to blow up a New York banking landmark with a 1,000-pound bomb had spoken of a desire to kill President Barack Obama.
The entire plot played out under the surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department as part of an elaborate sting operation, according to court papers.
The disclosures have revived a debate about the fairness of federal law enforcement officials playing the role of enablers.
The complaint said Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis Nafis, 21, spoke of a desire to “attack and kill” a high-ranking government official. A senior law enforcement official said on Wednesday night that the official was Obama but that Nafis’s desire never got past the talking stage.
Nafis, who arrived in the US in January on a student visa, tried to make contacts and recruit people to form a terrorist cell to help him carry out an attack, according to the criminal complaint. But one of these recruits was an FBI informer, who later introduced him to an undercover FBI agent who helped him with the plot.
The case appears to be the latest to fit a model in which, in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism, federal agents and informers have provided suspects with encouragement, guidance and money. The also provide materials that the subjects of the sting operations are led to believe are needed to carry out an attack.
Although these operations have almost always held up in court, they have come under increasing criticism from those who believe that many of the subjects, even some who openly espoused violence, would have been unable to execute such plots without substantial assistance from the government. Both FBI leaders and federal prosecutors have defended the approach as valuable in finding and stopping people predisposed to commit terrorism.
In a prominent case in 2009, several men, urged by an unusually persistent government informer, planted what they believed to be home-made bombs in front of synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Four men were convicted, but the judge who oversaw the trial also criticised the law enforcement agents who helped push the plot forward: “The government made them terrorists.”
Nafis was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to al Qaida. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.
Nafis arrived at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, looking boyish despite his trim beard. He spoke quietly when answering the questions of the magistrate judge, Roanne L. Mann. The court papers describe Nafis as a man of persistence, who wanted to be respected by al Qaida leaders.
The undercover agent began meeting with Nafis in July, first in Central Park and later in hotels in Queens, secretly recording Nafis’s statements. Nafis had grand but vague plans, according to the indictment.
“I don’t want something that’s like, small. I just want something big,” he said, according to the complaint. “Very, very, very, very big, that will shake the whole country.”
He settled on the financial district as a target, hoping to shake the American economy. The original plan was for a suicide mission but that changed when Nafis said he wanted to go home to Bangladesh first to put his affairs in order.
The undercover agent told Nafis that he could use a remote-control device, so that he could stage the attack and then return to Bangladesh.
Yesterday morning, they drove to a warehouse and assembled the fake bomb, placing supposedly explosive material in trash bins they had bought, then putting the bins in a van, according to the complaint. They assembled a fake detonator that was to be triggered by a cellphone and drove to the fortress-like Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the largest bank structure in the world when it was completed in 1924, about two blocks from Wall Street.
Nafis and the undercover agent parked the van outside the bank and walked to a nearby hotel, where Nafis recorded a video statement addressed to the American people, which he planned to publicise after the attack. In the statement, he said: “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom.”
Then he tried again and again to detonate the bomb, dialling the cellphone repeatedly until agents arrested him.