The next time you hear somebody criticize law enforcement for fielding undercovers in the Muslim community, take a walk past the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Then consider what very well might have happened if there had been no undercover to snare the 21-year-old man now accused of attempting to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb on the crowded street you are strolling.
Quazi Mohammad Rezawanul Ashan Nafis almost certainly would have kept searching for someone to join him in the jihad that prosecutors say was his primary purpose for coming to America from his native Bangladesh on a student visa in January.
He is said to call America “dar al-harb,” or “land of war,” and he could very well have ended up loading a truck not with the inert stuff supplied by the undercover FBI agent, but with explosives as real as his declared intent.
The informant put Nafis in contact with a supposed Al Qaeda operative, who was actually an undercover FBI agent attached to the Joint Terrorist Task Force run in conjunction with the NYPD. Nafis had by then moved to New York; he met the undercover in Central Park on July 24. The complaint says that Nafis was recording telling the agent that a friend he called “Yaqueen” had suggested he attack a small military establishment in Baltimore that had one guard, but he wanted to do much more. This was when Nafis allegedly told the agent that he was bent on doing something ”very very very very big.”
Those words became even scarier with the suggestion from a longtime undercover handler that they reflect a revived intensity among Islamic militants bent on terrorist violence.
“There’s a resurgence, a big resurgence,” says the handler, who is privy to reports form a number of active undercovers. “It’s the same as it was just before 9/11.”
The handler, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, feels certain that the undercover agent in the Nafis case prevented an attack.
“One way or another, this kid would have made a bomb and he would have detonated it,” the handler said. “If that’s not a wakeup call, I don’t know what is.”
Not even Nafis’s family seems to have suspected that he was bent on jihad. He—like such violent extremists as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohamed Atta—is not a product of poverty made stone-hearted by deprivation and oppression. His father is a banker, who insisted to reporters after the arrest, “My son can’t do it.” The father described Nafis as “very gentle and devoted to his studies.”
“I spent all my savings to send him to America,” the father, Quazi Mohammad Ahsanullah, was quoted saying.
After enrolling for the spring semester at Southeast Missouri State University, Nafis became vice president of the school’s Muslim student organization, but seems to have kept any jihadi thoughts largely to himself. One fellow student remembers that Nafis joined in such charitable endeavors as supplying book bags to needy children.
Yet, where some young men might haunt sex sites online, Nafis was viewing cyberporn of a different kind: Al Qaeda’s digital magazine, Inspire, as well as videos that Imam Anwar al-Awlaki made before being killed by a drone strike in Yemen last year.
Nafis left SMSU at the end of the term and apparently made initial contact online with someone he imagined to be a jihadi—but was in fact an FBI informant. Nafis is said to have called this person on July 5, complaining that Muslims in America were “Talafai,” not true members of the faith. Nafis spoke admiringly of “Sheikh O,” apparently meaning Osama bin Laden. Nafis also talked of engaging in “J,” meaning jihad.
The informant put Nafis in contact with a supposed al Qaeda operative, who was actually an undercover FBI agent attached to the Joint Terrorist Task Force run in conjunction with the NYPD. Nafis had by then moved to New York; he met the undercover in Central Park on July 24. This was when Nafis was recorded speaking of doing a large-scale attack.
“I want to do something that brothers coming after us can be inspired by us,” he went on to say, according to the complaint.
On August 5, Nafis allegedly told the undercover that he had decided to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. FBI agents are said to have observed him surveilling his alleged target on August 9. He met with the undercover at a Queens hotel two days later and showed him a map of the area around the exchange, allegedly saying that he intended to mount a suicide attack.
“We are going to need a lot of TNT of dynamite,” Nafis said, according to the complaint.
During a Sept. 20 meeting, Nafis allegedly told the undercover that the Stock Exchange was too difficult a target. Nafis is said to have decided he would attack the Federal Reserve Bank instead.
“Nafis told the UC [undercover] … that he understood that the attack he was planning would result in a large number of civilian casualties, including of women and children, but still wanted to proceed,” the complaint notes.
The complaint says that Nafis voiced the hope that the attack would disrupt the presidential election.
“You know what, this election might even stop,” he was recorded saying, according to the complaint.
The closest the undercover came to steering the plot seems to have been when Nafis said he wanted to return briefly to Bangladesh to get his affairs in order before conducting the suicide attack. The undercover apparently convinced him to stay and instead detonate the bomb remotely.
“Nafis was excited by the new plan,” the complaint says. “Because, he indicated, it would allow him to conduct additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.”
On Oct. 13, Nafis and the undercover are said to have driven to the Federal Reserve to “scout” the target. Nafis allegedly read aloud from an article he had written with the hope it would be published posthumously by al Qaeda’s online magazine.
“I decided to attack the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is by far the largest (by assets), most active (by volume), and most influential of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks. New York Federal Reserve Bank implements monetary policy, supervises, and regulates financial institutions and helps maintain the nation’s payment systems.”
Nafis allegedly had what he termed “plan B.”
“Which involved changing the attack into a suicide-bombing operation in the event that Nafis believed the attack was about to be thwarted by police,” the complaint notes.
Early on the morning of Oct. 17, Nafis and the undercover allegedly filled trash bins with 1,000 pounds of fertilizer, supposedly the same explosive used to the bomb the World Trade Center back in 1993. Nafis is said to have loaded the emptied fertilizer bags along with the bins into a van.
“Nafis told the UC … that he was collecting the extra bags because he believed that there might be residual explosive materials in the bags that would contribute to the strength of the anticipated detonation and kill more people,” the complaint states.
The supposed explosives had been furnished by the undercover, but Nafis provided the cellphone that was connected to the detonator before the two drove into Manhattan, the complaint says. Nafis was allegedly recorded talking about the influence al-Awlaki’s videos had on him.
Just as his mentor would have wanted, Nafis and the undercover parked the van outside the target at an hour when the streets were filling with innocent civilians on their way to work. The two proceeded to a room at the Millennium Hotel across from Ground Zero. Nafis is said to have donned sunglasses and disguised his face and voice while making a videotaped statement.
“We will not stop until we obtain victory or martyrdom,” Nafis was recorded saying, according to the complaint.
The banker's son who came to America on his father’s savings is alleged to have then repeatedly called the cellphone attached to the detonator. The result would have been as horrific as he seems to have intended if he had he managed to team up with an actual jihadi rather than an undercover.
Nafis was thwarted because the FBI and the NYPD continue to employ undercovers, despite all the heat they take from parts of the Muslim community and well-meaning civil libertarians, along with some members of Congress who seem to forget we are still very much at war, whether we like it or not.
Nobody has more cause than peace-minded Muslims to be thankful that an undercover enabled the FBI and the NYPD to once again prevent an attack on New York, by one count for the 15th time since 9/11.
Meanwhile, FBI agents in San Diego arrested Howard Willie Carter, allegedly the friend Nafis called “Yagueen,” on unrelated charges after they found child pornography in a computer recovered from the trash outside his home.
Back in New York, the undercovers are still out there, in the city that remains a bull's-eye.