Another 9/11, another Brussels, another Paris? According to indictments unsealed yesterday by the Department of Justice, a three-man Islamist terror cell plotted versions of all the above for another attack on New York City. Before they could carry it out, an FBI undercover agent discovered the plot in 2016, then coordinated an international manhunt to capture all three erstwhile terrorists:
The alleged scheme was more nefarious than many: The group, which wanted to attack Times Square and the New York City subway system, claimed to have been in touch with an Islamic State affiliate to obtain the official sanction of the terrorist group, prosecutors said.
One of them, a U.S. citizen living in Pakistan, traveled in that country to meet with explosives experts and another purchased bombmaking materials and secured a cabin within driving distance of New York City, the prosecutors said. …
Prosecutors alleged the men in New York plotted similar mass destruction during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The men wanted to carry out bombings and shootings in Times Square and the New York City subway system and shoot people at concert venues, and they referenced similar attacks in Brussels and Paris, authorities said.
Bahnasawy told the undercover FBI agent he wanted to “create the next 9/11” and in May 2016 sent maps of the New York City subway system with plans for where explosives could be detonated, prosecutors alleged. He also asserted the group should put a car bomb in Times Square, prosecutors alleged.
The DoJ rounded up the suspects beginning in May 2016 in the US, followed by an arrest in Pakistan in late 2016 and in the Philippines in April of this year. The man arrested in the US, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, has already pled guilty to terrorism offenses, and the US is working on the extradition of the other two men, 19-year-old Talha Haroon and 37-year-old Russell Salic.
Bahnasawy and Haroon made their declaration of loyalty to ISIS through a man they thought represented the terrorist cult. Unfortunately for them — and fortunately for the Big Apple — the man was an undercover FBI agent. Salic pledged to raise money for the operation, and later sent the same agent $423 in funding. (Times must be tight for ISIS.)
CBS provides a little more detail on the terrorists’ spitballing on tactics, showing that they had paid attention to earlier Islamist attacks in Europe:
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) October 7, 2017
One of the men, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, bought bomb-making materials but was arrested after traveling from Canada to New Jersey in May 2016 to stage the attacks, authorities said. His arrest came after an investigation using an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic extremist.
According to criminal complaints, El Bahnasawy sent the undercover an image of Times Square with a smartphone message saying, “We seriously need to car bomb times square. Look at these crowds of people!”
In another, El Bahnasawy expressed a desire to “shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot people. … We just walk in with guns in our hands. That’s how Paris guys did it,” the papers said.
According to The Guardian, Haroon wanted to conduct a subway attack with firearms and suicide vests. After shooting people until their bullets ran out, Haroon suggested, “we let the vests go off.” That parallels the Paris attacks, but also Brussels and Mumbai. Those continue to serve as models for terrorists, but hopefully the FBI’s success in stopping these will eventually discourage it.
Neither Haroon nor Salic have been approved yet for extradition. The US might have to wait on Salic, who faces terror charges at home related to pro-ISIS activity:
Salic, who is a doctor and is accused of sending money to help fund the planned attacks, was also arrested in the Philippines for his alleged involvement in kidnappings and beheadings blamed on pro-Isis militants, a Philippine official said.
The chief state counsel, Ricardo Paras, told the Associated Press that a Manila court was considering an extradition request from the US government. Even if the court approves the request, the Department of Justice in Manila needs to decide whether Salic will face charges in the Philippines first or be allowed to be flown to the US to answer the terrorism financing allegations there, Paras said.
“The US can also request for a temporary surrender of Salic to its custody, but it’s in our options to require him to face criminal complaints here first,” Paras said.
Salic would face a life sentence here. In the Philippines, he might face a tougher penalty, as the legislature has taken steps to restore the death penalty. Perhaps Salic won’t fight extradition too hard after all.