Authorities on Friday unsealed federal terrorism charges against three men who allegedly plotted attacks on New York City during the summer of 2016 in support of ISIS.
The planned attacks, which were described as aspirational more than operational and were thwarted by law enforcement, reportedly included the detonation of explosive devices in Times Square and the New York City subway system and shooting civilians at specific concert venues.
An undercover FBI agent reportedly infiltrated the group.
Officials say 19-year-old Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen, purchased bomb-making materials for use in the attacks and was arrested on May 21, 2016 after traveling to the United States from Canada in preparation for carrying out the attacks. He has pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses.
Talha Haroon, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen residing in Pakistan allegedly planned to carry out the attacks with El Bahnasawy and was arrested in Pakistan, where he is pending extradition to the United States.
The third suspect was identified as 37-year-old Russell Salic, a citizen of the Philippines, who allegedly provided financing for the planned attacks. He was arrested in the Philippines is also pending extradition.
“These three men allegedly plotted to conduct bombings and shootings in heavily populated areas of New York City during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan,” prosecutors said.
“It’s bold, but then again there is a big difference between I want to do something and I can do something,” said Dr. Maki Haverfeld, Counter Terrorism Instructor at John Jay College.
Authorities say El Bahnasawy was arrested in New Jersey, where he had rented a cabin within driving distance of New York City. He had traveled from Canada, where court records said he purchased bomb-making materials that he shipped to the undercover FBI agent with whom he expressed an intention of carrying out Paris-and-Brussels-like attacks. At one point, he is quoted saying that he aspired to “create the next 9/11.”
According to prosecutors, he and Haroon boasted about having “a good plan for subways” and a marked-up a subway map. They also allegedly discussed with the undercover FBI agent plans to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. El Bahnasawy was quoted saying, “We need a really strong bomb.” Investigators say he bought 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide that he shipped to the undercover agent.
El Bahnasawy also expressed a desire to “shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot of people,” authorities said. He reportedly described his plan by saying, “We just walk in with guns in our hands. That’s how the Paris guys did it.”
No specific venues were mentioned.
“Do we step in and try to prevent it, or do we step in and bring it to the point when they are ready to do something and hoping we will be able to stop them?” Dr. Haberfeld said.
All three arrests took place more than a year ago, and the case has been under seal until now.
Authorities say there is no connection to the non-credible threat mentioned by the FBI-NY earlier Friday.
“I don’t see any real proof that ISIS was really behind them,” Dr. Haberfeld said.