NEW YORK — A 21-year-old Bangladeshi man who wanted to “destroy America” tried to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan on Wednesday, but the explosive was a dud provided by agents as part of an FBI sting, authorities said.
The FBI and New York police said Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, whom they described as an Al Qaeda loyalist, was arrested in a hotel room after several futile attempts to detonate the fake bomb by remote control. He was arraigned in federal court hours later on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to Al Qaeda.
“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 assistant director of the FBI in New York. She said there was no danger to the public because two “accomplices” were working with the FBI and because the purported bomb contained no explosives.
Officials said that did not reduce the seriousness of the threat.
“He was arrested, but he clearly had the intent of creating mayhem,” New York’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, told reporters. Kelly said the alleged plot — one of more than a dozen thwarted in New York since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — showed that the city remains “very much a coveted target” of terrorists. “We see this threat as being with us for a long time to come,” he said.
A 21-page complaint details months of alleged planning by Nafis, who entered the United States on a student visa in January but who allegedly told an informant that his true reason for coming to the country was to wage jihad, or holy war. Nafis settled into an apartment in the New York City borough of Queens and allegedly began trying to recruit militants, one of whom was an informant.
Eventually, authorities say, Nafis also made contact with a second man, whom he believed to be a member of Al Qaeda. In reality, the man was an undercover FBI agent.
In conversations with his connections that began in July and lasted until the moments before his arrest, authorities say, Nafis said he “wanted to attack and kill a high-ranking government official” and wanted help from Al Qaeda to carry out his attack. “We are ready for action,” Nafis allegedly told the undercover agent during a meeting in Central Park in July.
“I don’t want something that’s like, small,” he allegedly said. “I just want something big. Something very big. Very, very, very, very big, that will shake the whole country.”
Two months later, authorities say, Nafis expressed hope that the attack might even be big enough to derail the U.S. presidential election.
Before settling on the Federal Reserve Bank, Nafis allegedly considered other targets, including a military base in Baltimore and the New York Stock Exchange, where FBI agents observed him surveying the site and taking notes over the summer.
Nafis is alleged to have settled on the bank because he felt it was “the most efficient way” to accomplish his goal of destroying America. A statement drafted by Nafis for publication in Inspire, an online militant magazine, explained his decision, calling the Federal Reserve Bank of New York “by far” the most influential of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks.
About $21 billion in U.S. gold is held in the bank’s vault, some 80 feet below the ground floor of the limestone and sandstone Italian Renaissance building in the financial district. It also houses bullion from three dozen other countries and organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.
Nafis planned to detonate the bomb via remote control and began building the device this month, using material he believed was explosive that was stashed at a warehouse in Brooklyn, authorities say. “There is nothing stopping me,” he allegedly told the undercover agent.
Early Wednesday, Nafis and the agent drove a van to the warehouse and piled 20 50-pound sacks of purported bomb-making material into the vehicle, authorities say. En route, Nafis allegedly said he was so determined to see the attack through that he would blow himself up with the payload if he believed the attack was in danger of being thwarted by police.
Instead, assured that the plot had not been detected, Nafis drove to Manhattan and left the vehicle outside the bank, authorities say. He then walked to a nearby hotel and repeatedly tried to set off the explosives by calling a cellphone that was to serve as the detonator, they say.
Outside the bank, a handful of workers leaving the building and the neighboring JPMorgan Chase tower Wednesday evening were just learning of the alleged plot. Pablo Lowe, a building engineer, stood between the two buildings on Liberty Street amid reporters, TV crews and police and speculated that a blast would have caused little damage to the Fed’s fortress.
“It sounds crazy,” Lowe said of the alleged plot.
Misael Saeteros, whose K&M; Shoe Repair shop sits across from the Fed building and had to close for two months after the 2001 terrorist attacks, said news of another plot was chilling.
“Since Sept. 11, we’ve been kind of afraid,” he said. “But what can we do? We’ve got to go on with business.”