NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of a Bangladeshi man accused of trying to bomb the Federal Reserve building in lower Manhattan said they were stunned by his arrest.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, did not enter a plea when he appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda.
1010 WINS’ John Montone reports
Nafis was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday after making several attempts to detonate a fake 1,000-pound bomb inside a vehicle parked next to the Federal Reserve on Liberty Street, according to the criminal complaint.
“Clearly, if you read the complaint, what it shows is this individual came here for the purpose of doing a terrorist attack,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Wednesday.
Kelly noted that while Nafis made the standard martyrdom video, his plan was to use remote control to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb so that he would survive to return to Bangladesh.
Speaking Thursday, his family said Nafis was a banker’s son from a middle class neighborhood. They said Nafis is incapable of such actions.
“My son can’t do it,” said Quazi Ahsanullah, Nafis’ father. “He is very gentle and devoted to his studies.”
Ahsanullah said his son convinced him to send him to America to study, arguing that with a U.S. degree he had a better chance at success in Bangladesh.
“I spent all my savings to send him to America,” he said.
Ahsanullah also called on the Bangladesh government to intervene and bring his son back to the country.
On Thursday, Nafis’ grandmother expressed disbelief that he could have cooked up such a scheme. In fact, his family said he was a victim of a “racist conspiracy.”
“It’s simply not possible,” said Nafis’ sister, Dr. Faria Bilkis. “We don’t think it can be done by him. He must be victimized, because in Bangladesh, he was not like this. He was a good boy.”
Just a few hours before his arrest, Nafis talked to his mother over Skype to update her on his plans, Bilkis said.
“My brother told my mother that he was doing well in studies in the U.S. and was transferring to a college in New York,” said his sister.
Earlier Thursday, a relative living in Switzerland called to tell the family Nafis had been arrested.
“We woke up with this terrible news. We just can’t believe it,” she said.
Federal authorities said Nafis came to the U.S. from Bangladesh on a student visa in January and eventually moved into an apartment in Queens.
Nafis attended Southeast Missouri State University during the spring semester, which ended in May, in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, university spokeswoman Ann Hayes said.
Nafis moved to New York to attend ASA college in Manhattan and study English and computer technology, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported. His transfer application was approved in July, and his student visa papers never raised any red flags.
“International students are required to maintain at least 80 percent attendance and he was maintaining 85 percent. There was no talk of any disruptions. He was a normal transfer,” international student advisor George Trahanis told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
“It’s crazy when it’s that close to you. I’ve just seen the picture now and I’m like what? It’s insane,” fellow student Aaron Sabater added.
Nafis allegedly met an informant in Central Park in July, telling him “I don’t want something that’s like, small. I just want something big. Something very big. Very, very, very, very big, that will shake the whole country, that will make America, not one step ahead, change of policy, and make one step ahead, for the Muslims…that will make us one step closer to run the whole world,” according to the complaint.
According to the indictment, Nafis picked the New York Stock Exchange as a possible target in August saying “We are going to need a lot of TNT or dynamite.” He also asked the informant for assurance that the attack would be on behalf of al Qaeda, the complaint said.
“The thing that I want to — ask you about is that, the thing I’m doing, it’s under al Qaeda?” he said, according to the complaint.
But ultimately, Nafis decided that location was too secure and eventually settled on a plot to blow up the Federal Reserve, the complaint said.
Wednesday morning, federal officials said he and an undercover agent drove a truck filled with inoperable explosives to lower Manhattan and parked it outside the Federal Reserve.
WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports
The pair then walked to a nearby hotel to watch the explosion, recording a video Nafis planned to release in the aftermath of the attack, the complaint said. Agents arrested Nafis in his hotel room after he tried to set off the bomb, authorities said.
WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell: Kelly Guarded On Obama Assassination
When asked about reports that Nafis’ terrorist plot aimed at destroying America included a desire to assassinate President Barack Obama, Commissioner Kelly was guarded.
He cited the criminal complaint against the 21-year-old bus boy.
“It does not say that in the complaint. It says a significant public official and I’m going to stay within the complaint,” he said Thursday.
Nafis said he was inspired by videotaped sermons of radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed last year.
The FBI said Nafis wanted to make his own mark, saying he “…expected that the attack would involve the killing of women and children” and “…hoped that his attack would disrupt the upcoming presidential elections.”
Back in his neighborhood in Queens, residents said they were shocked to hear of Nafis’ arrest.
“I’m just horrified about this news,” said neighbor Lamia Sikder “I had no idea that whoever this guy is would do that.”
“He was quiet, quiet talking guy,” said landlord Rafiqual Islam.
“Of course, it’s scary news, scary news,” said neighbor Mohammad Chowdhery. “This is my country. I feel really bad.”
Nafis is being held without bail and faces life in prison in convicted.
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