Artist’s sketch shows Nafis, center, sitting calmly in a Brooklyn courtroom after his arrest on Wednesday.
A 21-year-old Bangladeshi man could face life in prison after attempting to blow up the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan on Wednesday morning with a fake 1,000-pound bomb supplied by federal agents, authorities said.
Officials say Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis arrived in the United States on a student visa in January. Nafis met an undercover agent in July during a search for people who would help him carry out a terrorist attack on a “high-ranking U.S. official” or some other target, including the New York Stock Exchange. Upon arrival in the country, Nafis “actively sought out al-Qaida contacts within the U.S. to assist in carrying out an attack,” the FBI said.
“I don’t want something that’s like, small,” Nafis told agents during one of their meetings. “I just want something big … very, very, very, very big, that will shake the whole country.”
Nafis was arrested while attempting to detonate the fake bomb after parking a van loaded with what he believed to be explosives in front of the Federal Reserve, officials said. Moments before being detained, he recorded a video statement addressed to the American public. “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom,” he told the camera.
The case appears to be the latest to fit a model in which, in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism, federal law enforcement officials have played the role of enabler. Agents and informers have provided suspects with encouragement, guidance, money and even, the subjects of the sting operations are led to believe, the materials needed to carry out an attack. Though these operations have almost always held up in court, they have come under increasing criticism from those who believe that many of the subjects, even some who openly espoused violence, would have been unable to execute such plots without substantial assistance from the government.
Both F.B.I. 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 Riverdale section of the Bronx. Four men were convicted, but the judge who oversaw the trial also criticized the law enforcement agents who helped push the plot forward: “The government made them terrorists.”