SEMO terror suspect may make plea deal

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis

Quazi Nafis, the terror suspect who lived in Cape Girardeau for a semester last year on a student visa, is negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors who continue to characterize the Bangladeshi national as desperate to impress al-Qaida with his alleged plot to blow up New York's Federal Reserve.

Lawyers representing Nafis announced in open court that they are interested in working toward a plea bargain, said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn. Nardoza would not comment on any progress, except to say both sides haven't counted out the possibility of a trial.

"There's really no way to know at this point whether there will be a trial or not," Nardoza said. "Just know that we're prepared for either possibility."

Nafis has been detained by federal authorities since his Oct. 17 arrest, though Nardoza did not know where within the Federal Bureau of Prisons he is being held.

Prosecutors continue to characterize Nafis as a radical supporter of al-Qaida, seizing recordings of speeches by Anwar al-Awlaki, who called for terrorist attacks against Americans. Should the matter go to trial, prosecutor James Loonam said an expert witness would testify about the significance of Nafis owning such material as related to promoting jihad.

Defense attorneys say their client is innocent.

At a recent hearing, Nafis defense attorneys suggested again their client was entrapped by eager law enforcement desperate to arrest a suspected terrorist in a city still smarting from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The next hearing is set for Feb. 17.

Nafis faces life in prison if convicted of charges that he attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction and tried to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Nafis was arrested last October by the FBI and the New York Police Department after a joint undercover sting operation, which ended when he tried to detonate a 1,000-pound bomb from a nearby hotel room with a cellphone. Authorities said no real danger existed, because the explosives were bogus and the "terrorist operatives" were working for the FBI.

Still, news of Nafis' arrest hit close to home at Southeast Missouri State University, where he attended for a semester from January until May. Those who knew him said he was shy and quiet and never spoke of radical Islamic beliefs, instead focusing on the religion's peaceful side. Nafis cited attendance at the university as his reason for coming to the U.S. He left after a subpar semester.

Zahir Ahmed, director of the university's international education and services, was worried when the news broke. He was concerned the university's international program, which draws about 800 students, would suffer. But federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, reviewed the university's protocols for accepting foreign-born students and found nothing amiss, he said.

This semester, in fact, saw seven or eight new students from Bangladesh, he said.

"I thought it might be very bad for us," Ahmed said, admitting there was even a worry that he might be fired. "We even looked at everything ourselves to see if there was something we missed -- something we did wrong. We found that we didn't and that was a relief."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

1 University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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