A 22-year-old man is in federal custody after he asked about buying grenades and discussed possibly detonating them in New York City’s Times Square, according to US law enforcement sources.
The man, identified as Ashiqul Alam, who was intercepted by federal and local officials, is a Bangladeshi citizen who is a lawful permanent U.S. resident and was busted after allegedly discussing and boasting about his plans for an attack with an undercover federal investigator.
Alam’s alleged threatening statements were characterized as “aspirational,” and the planning never reached a stage that could endanger the public, law enforcement sources told the Associated Press.
He was arrested on charges of attempting to buy a gun with a defaced serial number, said ABC News.
Alam, who lives in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, was detected both inquiring about obtaining grenades and discussing using them in Times Square.
Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force — made up of FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives — began tracking Alam and eventually took him into custody.
He is not believed to be linked to any other people or part of a larger plot.
Alam is represented by Federal Defenders, who offered a bail package of $200,000 and to have their client wear an ankle monitoring device and home confinement. But a federal court judge, Magistrate Cheryl Pollak, ordered Alam to be “permanently detained,” labeling him a “danger” to the community based on his statements in the complaint and his desire to purchase firearms with the serial numbers scratched out. He is scheduled to appear in court on June 21.
His parents were in court, along with a family friend. His mother was quietly crying most of the time, reported CBS2’s Alice Gainer.
Outside of court neither his family nor lawyer would comment.
“What do you think about your son’s charges? What do you have to say about the firearms purchases? The judge called your client a danger to the community – do you believe that?” Gainer asked.
“No comment,” was the reply.
“Mr. Alam discussed guns, suicide vests, hand grenades, and surveilled crowded New York targets such as Times Square”, said Police Commissioner James O’Neill. “Our job is to prevent these terrorist attacks whenever we can before they are carried out. This case is another example of the tightly-knit teamwork of the JTTF and the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau. Mr. Alam is charged with illegally purchasing untraceable firearms from undercover officers. That was a clear indicator of his intent to move his plot forward.”
William Sweeney, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement “there is more to this case than just talk and the desire to carry out a terrorist attack.”
“Individuals who believe in the distorted and deadly propaganda of terrorist organizations and work toward acting on those deadly impulses are incredibly dangerous and unpredictable,” said Sweeney.
Authorities say Alam wanted to either attack Times Square or Washington D.C., with an eye toward killing a “senior government official.” Accompanied by the investigator, Alam twice conducted reconnaissance in Times Square, filming the nationally famous urban landmark with a cell phone, the court complaint said.
During meetings with an undercover federal agent, Alam expressed support for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York as well as the militant group Islamic State, according to the court complaint. He also discussed using an explosive suicide vest in an attack.
“Alam stated that if they completed an attack successfully, then they would become ‘legends,'” FBI Special Agent Sean Dillon stated in the court filing.
During another meeting, on March 21, the undercover agent asked Alam what would make him happy. “Seeing the flag of Islam on the Twin Towers or the Empire State Building,” Alam replied, according to the court complaint.
During discussions with the undercover agent, Alam allegedly agreed to meet individuals he believed were willing to sell weapons that had their identifying serial numbers obliterated.
“Oh, that’s good, man,” Alam said, after learning that the weapons would be difficult to trace, the court complaint alleged.
He also discussed buying hand grenades, theorizing that one of the devices could “take out at least eight people” if it exploded indoors in a mall or large gathering, according to the court filing.
Meanwhile, residents of the predominately Muslim neighborhood in Jackson Heights were shocked to learn about the allegations against Ashiqul Alam,
“He is respectful, quiet. The family is Muslim,” said Shamsi Ara, 46, who lives next door to Alam on the fifth floor of an apartment building on Broadway. “We saw the FBI yesterday. At that time, they were not home.”
“We are shocked, we didn’t think it can be our neighbors,” Ara added, saying that the family moved there about five or six years ago.
Many of the neighbors recognized Alam’s photo but said they didn’t know his name.