The FBI on Wednesday arrested a Bangladeshi man in a sting operation on charges he attempted to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank with what he believed was a 450-kilogram bomb, federal authorities said.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, faces charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The FBI said the public was not in danger because the explosives provided to Mr. Nafis were never in working condition and the suspect was closely monitored by the undercover agent – highlighting a script law enforcement has employed several times this year in similar cases, including one in Washington and another in Ohio.
"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, FBI acting assistant director-in-charge. "The defendant faces appropriately severe consequences."
The arrest comes less than a week before President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will face off in a presidential debate on foreign policy that is expected to touch on national-security issues and the fight against terrorism.
In the town-hall debate on Tuesday, analysts said Mr. Romney bungled on foreign policy when he mischaracterized – and was corrected by the debate monitor – Mr. Obama's initial remarks on last month's deadly attacks on diplomatic facilities in Libya. Mr. Obama took advantage of the moment to accuse Mr. Romney of politicizing the deaths of four Americans.
Mr. Nafis, the Bangladeshi suspect, made an initial appearance in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Wearing a plain brown crewneck T-shirt, dark-coloured jeans and sneakers, he barely spoke during the brief hearing, mumbling answers of "yes" to questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Nafis travelled to the United States in January, 2012. Once in New York, he claimed to be in contact with al-Qaeda members overseas, although federal agents found no evidence that he was working for al-Qaeda or that he was directed by the organization, according to a U.S. official who declined to be named.
Mr. Nafis considered several targets for his attack, including the New York Stock Exchange and a high-ranking government official, who the source identified as President Barack Obama.
In the end, Mr. Nafis decided to focus on the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan, according to the criminal complaint. To create a cell to help him carry out the bombing, Mr. Nafis began to seek out recruits, eventually bringing on board an undercover agent working for the FBI.
The two met on Wednesday morning and travelled by van to a New York warehouse, where Mr. Nafis assembled what he thought was a 450-kilogram bomb, before driving to the Federal Reserve bank, among the most secure and guarded buildings in Manhattan.
A couple of blocks from Wall Street, the bank stands like a limestone and sandstone fortress, sitting atop what is believed to be one of the world's largest stockpiles of gold.
After parking near the bank, Mr. Nafis walked to a nearby hotel and recorded a video statement in which he said, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," according to the FBI.
Mr. Nafis was arrested in the hotel as he repeatedly attempted to detonate the inert bomb, the FBI said.
In relation to the deadly bombing on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month, the New York Times reported Wednesday that Libyan authorities have singled out Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the Benghazi-based Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, as a commander in the attack.
Mr. Abu Khattala and Ansar al-Sharia share al-Qaeda's puritanism and militancy, but operate independently and focus only on Libya rather than on a global jihad against the West, the Times reported.