A Bangladeshi man snared in an FBI terror sting considered targeting President Barack Obama before settling on a car bomb attack on The Federal Reserve in New York City, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and talked to the AP on condition of anonymity, stressed that the suspect never got beyond the discussion stage.
In a September meeting with an undercover agent posing as a fellow jihadist, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis explained he chose the Federal Reserve as his car bomb target "for operational reasons," according to a criminal complaint. Nafis also indicated he knew that choice would "cause a large number of civilian casualties, including women and children," the complaint said. He had also considered the New York Stock Exchange as a target.
The bomb was phony, but authorities alleged that Nafis' admiration of Osama bin Laden and aspirations for martyrdom were not.
FBI 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 a fake 1,000-pound the bomb inside a vehicle parked next to the Federal Reserve Wednesday in lower Manhattan, the complaint said.
Nafis is a banker's son from a middle class neighborhood, and family members said Thursday that they were stunned by his arrest.
"My son can't do it," his father, Quazi Ahsanullah, said as he wept in his home in the Jatrabari neighborhood in north Dhaka, Bangladesh.
"He is very gentle and devoted to his studies," he said, pointing to Nafis' time at the private North South University in Dhaka.
However, Belal Ahmed, a spokesman for the university, said Nafis was a terrible student who was put on probation and threatened with expulsion if he didn't bring his grades up. Nafis eventually just stopped coming to school, Ahmed said.
Ahsanullah said his son convinced him to send him to America to study, arguing that with a U.S. degree he had a better chance at success in Bangladesh.
"I spent all my savings to send him to America," he said.
He called on the government to "get my son back home."
Nafis appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday 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 bank in New York, 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.
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.
As a result, 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.