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Man arrested after plotting Federal Reserve bomb, authorities say

From Susan Candiotti, CNN
updated 6:51 PM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The suspect majored in cybersecurity at a college in Missouri
  • Jay Carney, White House press secretary, says President Barack Obama has been briefed
  • Bangladeshi national made initial court appearance Wednesday at federal courthouse in Brooklyn
  • His attorney, a public defender, declined to comment

New York (CNN) -- Federal authorities running a sting operation arrested a 21-year-old Bangladeshi man, who came to the U.S. on a student visa and was allegedly planning to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York with what he believed was a 1,000-pound bomb, officials said.

Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis was detained Wednesday after an alleged attempt to detonate the device, which was inert and part of an elaborate investigation by federal authorities and NYPD detectives.

Prosecutors say Nafis was apparently motivated by al Qaeda and traveled to the United States in January under the pretext of attending college in Missouri in order carry out "a terrorist attack on U.S. soil" and to recruit members to form a terrorist cell.

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It's not clear whether Nafis maintained al Qaeda ties, but authorities say he apparently claimed that the plot was his own, and that it was his sole motivation for the U.S. trip.

One of the people Nafis apparently contacted was an FBI source to whom he proposed multiple targets, including a high-ranking U.S. official as well as the New York Stock Exchange, authorities said.

At one point, the suspect contemplated President Barack Obama as a target, but that idea never progressed, a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said.

While the details surrounding the suspected plot remain murky, prosecutors say Nafis indicated that he wanted to "destroy America" by going after the nation's financial institutions and ultimately settled on the landmark bank.

The undercover agent, authorities say, also provided 20 bags of 50 pounds each of purported explosives to Nafis, who then stored the material in a warehouse in preparation for the strike.

They say Nafis further divulged a "Plan B" that involved carrying out a suicide attack should police thwart his initial effort.

Packing his van with what he apparently believed were explosives, Nafis then allegedly traveled with the undercover agent to Manhattan's financial district, attached a detonator to the material and recorded a video statement in a nearby hotel.

NYPD: Bomb attempt inspired by magazine
Security at the NY Federal Reserve

"We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," he allegedly said, covering his face, donning sunglasses and disguising his voice.

While en route to his target, authorities say, Nafis detailed how his jihadist views were -- at least in part -- formed by watching video sermons by American-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last year by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

With his van parked next to the Federal Reserve, Nafis allegedly attempted to detonate the inert device by using his cell phone.

The effort failed, and he was arrested soon after, authorities said.

Much of the sting operation was also captured on video, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Nafis faces charges of "attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda."

His arrest came as a result of the "culmination of an undercover operation" after he was being monitored by NYPD detectives and the FBI New York Field Office's Joint Terrorism Task Force, the statement said.

The Federal Reserve declined to comment, while Police Commissioner Ray Kelly reminded New Yorkers to remain vigilant against potential threats.

"Al Qaeda operatives and those they have inspired have tried time and again to make New York City their killing field," he said in a prepared statement. "We are up to 15 plots and counting since 9/11, with the Federal Reserve now added to a list of iconic targets that previously included the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Stock Exchange and Citicorp Center."

He added that "after 11 years without a successful attack, it's understandable if the public becomes complacent."

"But that's a luxury law enforcement can't afford," he said.

Jay Carney, White House press secretary, told CNN that President Barack Obama has been briefed on the threat.

Meanwhile, Nafis made an initial court appearance Wednesday at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

His attorney, a public defender, declined to comment.

Nafis was a student majoring in cybersecurity at Southeast Missouri State University from January to May of this year, said Ann Hayes, a spokeswoman for the university.

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CNN's Carol Cratty and Raelyn Johnson contributed to this report.

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