DOWNTOWN — A Bangladeshi man with Al Qaeda ties was arrested Wednesday after he allegedly tried to blow up an inert 1,000-pound bomb outside the New York Federal Reserve Bank in Downtown Manhattan, officials said.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was busted as part of an undercover operation conducted by the FBI and NYPD's Joint Terrorism Task Force, officials announced on Wednesday.
“I don’t want something that’s like, small. I just want something big. Something very big. Very very very very big, that will shake the whole country,” Nafis said in a meeting with an undercover officer in Central Park, according to the complaint. “[T]hat will make us one step closer to run the whole world.”
He allegedly claimed that he believed the best way to “destroy America” was to target economic institutions, according to the complaint.
But the bomb he allegedly tried to detonate never posed a danger to the public — the explosives were inert and provided by an undercover officer.
Nafis, a Bangladeshi national living in Jamaica, Queens, who was in the country on a student visa, faces charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material to support Al Qaeda.
“The defendant came to this country intent on conducting a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and worked with single-minded determination to carry out his plan,” Loretta Lynch, the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney, said in a statement. “His extensive efforts to strike at the heart of the nation’s financial system were foiled by effective law enforcement."
Nafis was arraigned in Brooklyn Federal Court Wednesday afternoon. Wearing a brown T-shirt and jeans and a closely cropped beard, he entered the courtroom with his eyes cast downward.
He did not speak other than to say that he understood the charges against him, answering questions from the judge with a subdued “Yes.”
Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann ordered Nafis held without bail.
According to court documents, Nafis came to the U.S. in January bent on carrying out a terrorist attack. Once he arrived, officials said Nafis attempted to recruit people to join a terrorist cell and tried to track down others affiliated with Al Qaeda in the United States.
But one of his recruits was an undercover FBI agent, officials said.
Nafis drafted a list of potential targets for his planned terrorist attack, the complaint said. Sources said they included President Barack Obama.
Nafis ultimately settled on the Federal Reserve Bank and began plotting the attack and told the FBI agent that he was prepared to turn the bombing into a suicide operation if police came close to thwarting his efforts.
In the course of the operation, the undercover FBI agent supplied Nafis with 20 50-pound bags of what Nafis believed to be explosive materials, officials said. Then, early Wednesday morning, Nafis and the undercover agent piled the supposed explosives in a van and headed Downtown.
NYPD counterterrorism officials were instructed not to stop the van as it approached the Federal Reserve Bank. The explosives and detonator Nafis assembled en route to his target were never capable of being turned into a weapon.
Nafis and the FBI agent parked next to the Federal Reserve Bank, left the vehicle and retreated to a nearby hotel, where Nafis recorded a video statement, officials said. In the taping, Nafis said, “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom.”
Nafis then made several unsuccessful attempts to detonate the bomb using a cellphone trigger before task force agents arrested him.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly praised the FBI’s efforts Wednesday and said the NYPD also played “a major role” in the operation.
“[New York is] still very much a coveted target by terrorists,” Kelly said at a press conference. “I think this just reaffirms this.”
Kelly said that the suspect entered the country on a student visa, purporting to be enrolled at a school in Missouri. Nafis used Facebook in his efforts to coordinate a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Kelly added, and he drew motivation from Inspire magazine, an online publication started by Anwar al Awlaki and Al Qaeda.
Kelly said the online magazine was also a source of motivation for Jose Pimentel, the 27-year-old man who was arrested last year and charged with plotting to use homemade pipe bombs to blow up numerous targets.
“[Nafis] clearly had the intent of creating mayhem here, killing people,” Kelly said. “We have to be vigilant, and I assure you that we’re going to remain vigilant.”
While in New York, Nafis had been living on the second floor of a three-story apartment building in Jamaica. Rafiqul Islam, the landlord at the building, said the alleged terrorist was not a tenant but had been staying with relatives.
“I’m very concerned that I’m living here with my two small kids, my wife, my mother-in-law, and all of a sudden this came out, and I’m living with someone who is a danger,” Islam said.
Mohamed Chowdhery, Nafis’ upstairs neighbor, said the young man seemed polite the few times they interacted.
"We just said, ‘Hi,’ and talked briefly. I felt he was a good guy, but it's just the outside impression,” said Chowdhery, 45. “I never expected this kind of thing to happen."
Additional reporting Tuan Nguyen and Aidan Gardiner.