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Feds: 1 arrested in plot to attack Federal Reserve; was former SEMO student

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This courtroom sketch shows Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, center, and his attorney Heidi Cesare, left, in Brooklyn Federal Court Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, in New York. Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested in a sting operation Wednesday morning after he parked a van filled with what he believed were explosives outside the building and tried to detonate it in a suicide mission, authorities said.
(AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
Download the complaint against Nafis

NEW YORK (AP) -- A Bangladeshi man and former Southeast Missouri State University student who came to the United States to wage jihad was arrested in an elaborate FBI sting on Wednesday after attempting to blow up a fake car bomb outside the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan, authorities said.

Before trying to carry out the alleged terrorism plot, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis went to a warehouse to help assemble a 1,000-pound bomb using inert material, according to a criminal complaint. He also asked an undercover agent to videotape him saying, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," the complaint said.

Agents grabbed the 21-year-old Nafis -- armed with a cellphone he believed was rigged as a detonator -- after he made several attempts to blow up the bomb inside a vehicle parked next to the Federal Reserve, the complaint said.

Nafis was a student at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau during the spring semester of 2012, from January to May, said university spokeswoman Ann Hayes. He was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in cybersecurity.

Hayes said that Nafis requested a transfer of his records in July, and the university followed protocol outlined by the Homeland Security Department in transferring those records, though she couldn't say where they were transferred.

Nafis was enrolled in 12 credit hours, she said.

Hayes said the news came as a surprise to university officials.

"It certainly was, and we recruit international students, and they bring a lot to our campus, so it's very unfortunate to hear this," she said.

The campus is home to 830 international students from 53 countries, Hayes said.

Cape Girardeau Police Department spokesman Darin Hickey said the department was contacted by the FBI and told to refer any calls to the FBI. Hickey said the FBI didn't ask for assistance in the investigation.

Authorities emphasized that the plot never posed an actual risk. However, they claimed the case demonstrated the value of using sting operations to neutralize young extremists eager to harm Americans.

"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, acting head of the FBI's New York office. "The defendant faces appropriately severe consequences."

Nafis appeared in federal court in Brooklyn to face charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. Wearing a brown T-shirt and black jeans, he was ordered held without bail and did not enter a plea. His defense attorney had no comment outside court.

The defendant had sought assurances from an undercover agent posing as an al-Qaida contact that the terrorist group would support the operation.

Pedestrians pass the Federal Reserve Building Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, in New York. Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested a Bangladeshi man they said was plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan, just blocks from the World Trade Center site. Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested in a sting operation Wednesday morning after he parked a van filled with what he believed were explosives outside the building and tried to detonate it in a suicide mission, authorities said.
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
"The thing that I want to do ask you about is that, the thing I'm doing, it's under al-Qaida?" he was recorded saying during a meeting in bugged hotel room in Queens, according to the complaint.

In a September meeting in the same hotel room, Nafis "confirmed he was ready to kill himself during the course of the attack, but indicated he wanted to return to Bangladesh to see his family one last time to set his affairs in order," the complaint said.

But there was no allegation that Nafis actually received training or direction from the terrorist group.

Prosecutors say Nafis traveled to the U.S. on a student visa in January to carry out an attack. In July, he contacted a confidential informant, telling him he wanted to form a terror cell, the criminal complaint said. Nafis was living in Queens.

In further conversations, authorities said Nafis proposed several spots for his attack, including the New York Stock Exchange -- and that in a written letter taking responsibility for the Federal Reserve job he was about to carry out, he said he wanted to "destroy America." Other communications took place through Facebook, the complaint said.

A Twitter account with the suspect's name and photo had six followers and two messages and was linked to a Facebook page that had been taken down.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the case is one more reminder that New York remains a target:

"New York continues to be very much in the mind frame of terrorism. This individual came here with the express purpose of committing a terrorist attack, he was motivated by al-Qaida. We see this threat as being with us for a long time to come."

Kelly said security is always a precaution and there are about a thousand officers in the counterterrorism division. He didn't specify if any additional measures were being taken.

The bank, located at 33 Liberty St., is one of 12 branches around the country that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, make up the Federal Reserve System that serves as the central bank of the United States. It sets interest rates.

The Federal Reserve is one of the most fortified buildings in the city, smack in the middle of a massive security effort headed by the New York Police Department where a network of thousands of private and police cameras watch for suspicious activity.

The department uses sophisticated programs that can search for suspicious activity, like an object in one place for a long time, at the building modeled after London's "ring of steel." The analytic software also is designed to take video and catalog it according to movements, shapes and colors, so officers can set parameters to search the system for, say, a suspicious van.

The Fed is also home to the world's largest accumulation of gold, according to the bank's website. Dozens of governments and central banks store a portion of their gold reserves in high-security vaults deep beneath the building. In recent years, it held 216 million troy ounces of gold, or more than a fifth of all global monetary gold reserves, making it a bigger bullion depository than Fort Knox.

The federal case was the latest where a terrorism plot against the city turned out to be a sting operation.

Four men were convicted in 2009 in a plot to bomb synagogues and shoot down military planes with missiles -- a case that began after an FBI informant was assigned to infiltrate a mosque in Newburgh, about 70 miles north of New York City. The federal judge hearing the case said she was not proud of the government's role in nurturing the plot.

In 2004, a Pakistani immigrant was arrested and convicted of a scheme to blow up the subway station at Herald Square in Midtown. His lawyers argued that their client had been set up by a police informant who showed him pictures of Iraq abuse to get him involved in an attack against civilians.

Southeast Missourian managing editor Matt Sanders contributed to this report.

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This is really scarey! To think this guy was in Cape!!!!!

-- Posted by Hookie98 on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 6:02 PM

fry him

-- Posted by ssinteriors on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 7:56 PM

Diversity.................it's working.

-- Posted by thewonder on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 8:02 PM

To "beef up" enrollment Southeast uses paid agents to identify students to recruit. They are accepting too many of these students too fast. Is the university monitoring this situation? Students who come in on visas "disappear" all the time. The university has an obligation to report this. Money talks; the university recruits the internationals hard to swell the enrollment. Maybe this town is too small to have so many internationals with so few programs and staff for them.

-- Posted by Whatacrock on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 8:52 PM

Where did he live in Cape? Who was his landlord? Did he live with anyone else? If so, who?

-- Posted by gomer on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 10:17 PM

You know, Whatacrock, your post is a crock. Come on dude(ette?), we have had hundreds of foreign students here. One is a goof and the spiel starts.

-- Posted by JungleJim on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 11:28 PM

Also pretty scary that Rush Limbaugh and the Florida ,insisted who wanted to burn Korans also once lived in Cape!

-- Posted by jfw on Wed, Oct 17, 2012, at 11:34 PM

Sorry about the typo in my earlier comment. It was supposed to read "Also pretty scary that Rush Limbaugh and the Florida MINISTER who wanted to burn Korans also once lived in Cape!"

-- Posted by jfw on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 6:48 AM

Come on Cape.....wake up! Send them all back to where they came from before it's to late.

-- Posted by GO_IRISH! on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 7:02 AM

We should probably send you(GO_IRISH)back to Ireland also.

-- Posted by CGCyclist on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 9:28 AM

Every student that sat in a classroom with him will be interviewed by the FBI.

-- Posted by Yankee Station on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 9:29 AM

I believe the SE Missourian deserves praise for publishing this article, which cannot help but prompt some scrutiny of the avidity with which many universities in general, and SEMO in particular, are pursuing international students.

SEMO doubtless has considerable clout with the local media. Money talks, after all.

I know a university professor elsewhere in the state, who had a middle eastern student once displaying overt hostility, and not behaving in a serious way about the course (trying to get a "ringer" to take his exam, for example), who dropped out of sight. What was the response of the Department of International Affairs when they were presented with this professor's concerns?

"Butt out. This is our turf." It was clear that they considered their mission to diversify the campus population sacred. The dirty secret, of course, is that the universities are massively bloated with superfluous employees, and hunger for the tuition $$, wherever it comes from.

SEMO owes the public an explanation. Let them tell us what they did, "following Department of Homeland Security protocol."

Stay on this story, SE Missourian!

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 9:53 AM

I don't think this is out of the ordinary - the individual chose a small town midwestern college who actively recruits foreign students, so that the individual can blend in better. I do think a follow-up with our local college to determine their criteria/protocol for recruiting foreign students is warranted. Perhaps an investigation to determine if they in any way violated any procedures or best practices is warranted as well. Keep in mind there's alot of unanswered questions to this story as well - the individual did not go very far before getting caught - my understanding is that this is all based on a meeting in a hotel room and that nothing was actually done. More than likely as well, I wouldn't consider this 'scary' or of any consequence to the local scene - these people are pursuing large targets such as NYC and I doubt the FBI is going to want to talk to everybody who sat in class with him. This is really much ado about nothing.

-- Posted by Beaker on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 10:13 AM

Givemeliberty - SEMO owes us nothing and don't think that SEMO and the SE Missourian are buddy buddy. I'm sure the SE Missourian is loving this. If it was so easy to spot whack jobs, then we wouldn't have crime. Maybe the place he bought gas owes us an explanation too.

-- Posted by Responder1 on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 10:21 AM


What of the 9/11 terrorists? Weren't some of them here on student visas?

I don't think that a couple 10-year wars and thousands of American servicemen and women dead, who knows how many maimed, not to mention civilian casualties, is "nothing". Not to mention the $4 trillion spent on those wars.

The FBI, DHS, et al. can't have it both ways...they can't ignore the lax applications of the student visa program and the considerable lack of accountability to the American public, while they set up some gullible young person tempted into our midst by those same student visa "mills", to keep the public whipped up into enthusiasm for putting every federal installation on lock-down for eternity, and a never-ending "war" on a tactic.

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 10:24 AM


Someone can correct me, but I think you have to have a university willing to accept you to get a student visa.

The "International Student" business is booming.

If not SEMO, who? Who is to answer to the American citizens who pay the price for all of this? By "this" I mean the crises (and I would say the war in Afghanistan would pretty much qualify as a "crisis", since so many of our wonderful service members have been killed/injured) arising from the barn door being left wide open and unattended? Will Janet Napolitano at DHS or someone from NSA or FBI or CIA or CTTF or....? What are we paying these people for?

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 10:39 AM

This sounds like a case of entrapment. The police are the ones that should go to jail. Some kid is messed up in the head, and rather than deport him, send him to get help, or watch to see what he actually tries to do, the police egg him on so they can get their career points.

Thought crimes should not be crimes. He did not hurt anyone, nor could he in the invented circumstances the police set up.

Yes, these people are sometimes not playing will a full deck, but a bad idea may just fizzle away without someone actively urging him on, as the police did.

What the police should have done is simply watch to see if he were capable of pulling together actual explosives. At that point, it goes from being a thought to being an attempt, since people could get hurt from that point on. Then lock him up to rot.

Under this entrapment scenario, if I were on the jury, I would use the power of jury nullification. I would never convict anyone of a thought or paperwork crime.

-- Posted by donttreadonme on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 11:11 AM

An international student posted a threat on Facebook about killing a professor in the learning English program. Nothing was done by the administration. The faculty member quit.

-- Posted by Whatacrock on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 2:48 PM

Why are people so offended that Rush Limbaugh is from Cape? Is it because his opinions differ from yours, or because he's more successful than you? Hmmm.

-- Posted by ZU on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 4:00 PM

There's a lot of finger pointing going on with this board right now. I was a SEMO student from 1996-2000, and during that time, I had the pleasure of meeting, rooming with and becoming friends with several international students. There is no doubt that knowing those people enriched my life and helped me have a better understanding of other cultures. I hope they say the same thing about me. That having been said, I do think that in the current international climate, we need to give extra scrutiny to students from certain countries. Instead of blaming the university, Rush Limbaugh, the Yosemite Sam preacher, etc., why don't we have a dialogue about the steps we can take to prevent things like this while at the same time keeping our doors open for international students who truly want to come here to learn?

-- Posted by semo2000 on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 11:09 PM

The student was here for one semester and during that time took only basic courses. I'm sure that among past SEMO students are successful executives, congressmen, ministers, thieves, liars, drunks, criminals, and the list goes on. This guy passed through the area; that's all. He had little or no influence while here and few remember him. He's not even a footnote at SEMO.

Maybe the focus on past students should be on the likes of Eugene Amano, Cedric the Entertainer, and others who have gained legitimate fame.

-- Posted by fightingindian on Tue, Oct 23, 2012, at 6:12 AM

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