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Man is arrested in plot to bomb Federal Reserve Bank

A courtroom sketch shows Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, center, and his attorney, Heidi Cesare, left. (Associated Press)
A courtroom sketch shows Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, center, and his attorney, Heidi Cesare, left. (Associated Press)
Tina Susman Los Angeles Times

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 the would-be bomber and al-Qaida loyalist, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 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-Qaida.

“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, the acting assistant director of the FBI in New York. Galligan said there was no danger to the public because two of Nafis’ “accomplices” were working with the FBI and because the purported bomb contained no explosives.

But 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 plot – one of more than a dozen thwarted in New York since the Sept. 11, 2001, 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,” Kelly added.

A 21-page complaint detailed months of planning by Nafis, who entered the United States on a student visa in January 2012 but who told an informant 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 began trying to recruit jihadists, one of whom was the informant.

Eventually, Nafis also made contact with a second man, who Nafis believed was an al-Qaida member. In reality, the man was an undercover FBI agent.

In conversations with his connections that began in July and lasted until the moments before Nafis’ arrest, Nafis said he “wanted to attack and kill a high-ranking government official” and wanted help from al-Qaida to carry out his attack. “We are ready for action,” Nafis allegedly told the undercover agent during one meeting in Central Park in July.

“I don’t want something that’s like, small,” he added. “I just want something big. Something very big. Very very very very big, that will shake the whole country.”

Two months later, Nafis expressed hope that the attack would be big enough to derail the U.S. presidential election, saying: “You know what, this election might even stop.”

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 settled on the Reserve 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,” a jihadist online magazine, explained his decision, calling the Federal Reserve “by far” the most influential of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks.

About $21 billion in U.S. gold is locked inside the Reserve’s vault, some 80 feet below the ground floor of the limestone and sandstone Italian Renaissance building in Manhattan’s financial district. It also houses bullion from three dozen other countries and organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

Nafis had planned to detonate the bomb via remote control and began building the explosive device earlier this month, using material stashed at a warehouse in Brooklyn that he believed to be explosive material. “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 bombmaking material into the vehicle. En route, Nafis said he was so determined to see the attack through that he would blow himself up with the payload if he believed it was in danger of being thwarted by police.

Instead, Nafis, apparently assured the plot had not been detected, drove to Manhattan and left the vehicle outside the Federal Reserve. Then, he walked to a nearby hotel and repeatedly tried to blow up it up by calling a cellphone that was to serve as the detonator.

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