FBI 'foils' plot to blow up Fed bank


US federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have charged a 21-year-old Bangladeshi man with conspiring to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, saying he tried to remotely detonate what he believed was a 1,000 lb (453.5 kg) bomb in a van he parked outside the building in Lower Manhattan yesterday.

The entire plot played out under the surveillance of the FBI and the New York Police Department as part of an elaborate sting operation, according to court papers.

The man, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who arrived in the United States 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 a criminal complaint in the case.

But one of these recruits was an FBI informer, who later introduced him to an undercover FBI agent who helped him with the plot. Mr Nafis was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to al-Qaeda. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Mr Nafis arrived at the US 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 plot is the latest to fit a model in which federal law enforcement officials have played the role of enabler in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism.

Subjects of the sting operations are led to believe agents and informers provide suspects with encouragement, guidance, money and even the materials needed to carry out attacks.

Although these operations have almost always held up in court, they have come under increasing criticism from those who believe many of the subjects, even some who had 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 homemade bombs in front of synagogues in 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."

The court papers describe Mr Nafis as a man of persistence who wanted to be respected by al-Qaeda leaders. The undercover agent began meeting with him in July, first in Central Park and later in hotels in Queens, secretly recording Mr Nafis's statements.

Mr 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 US economy. The original plan was for a suicide mission, but that changed when Mr Nafis said he wanted to go home to Bangladesh first to put his affairs in order. The undercover agent told Mr 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 rubbish 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.

Mr Nafis and the undercover agent parked the van outside the bank and walked to a nearby hotel, where Mr 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, dialing the cellphone repeatedly until agents arrested him.