Terror plot targeting NYC concerts, subways, landmarks foiled by investigators
By DENIS SLATTERY, VICTORIA BEKIEMPIS, GRAHAM RAYMAN AND THOMAS TRACY | New York Daily News | Published: October 7, 2017
NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — A trio of maniacal terrorists targeted women and children – hoping to make "an ocean out of their blood" – in a failed attack they dreamed would be on par with 9/11, federal officials said Friday.
The Islamic State-inspired plot to set off bombs in Times Square, the New York City subway system and at concerts in the Big Apple was thwarted by the FBI and NYPD before it ever got off the ground.
A federal court unsealed indictments against the three men in connection with the foiled attack, set to be carried out last summer, according to acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
The would-be jihadists were identified as 19-year-old Canadian Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, 19-year-old Tala Haroon, a U.S. citizen who lives in Pakistan, and Russel Salic, 37, of the Philippines.
El Bahnasawy and Haroon began sharing their fantasies of death and destruction last spring via web messaging apps, unwittingly telling an undercover agent, "these Americans need an attack," and that they wanted to "create the next 9/11."
El Bahnasawy allegedly bought bomb-making materials and rented a cabin near the city to build and store explosives, according to federal court papers.
He said he wanted to "practice shooting" at the cabin site if it was not "too close to people."
Haroon planned to travel to the city to help him execute the strike – and met with bomb experts in Pakistan.
The American citizen told the agent he wanted to "cause great destruction to the filthy kuffars (a derogatory term referring to non-Muslims) by our hands."
Meanwhile, Salic wired money from the Philippines to help cover costs.
On May 1, 2016, El Bahnsawy sent multiple images of maps of the city's subway system containing markings of places to attack.
One map made clear that El Bahnsawy wanted to target the No.7 train and the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines.
"(W)e will blow up ... the purple one, and the green one ... Because these two will make it easier for us to get to the vehicle," he wrote.
At one point, he also gave the undercover a picture of Times Square, writing, "We seriously need a car bomb at times square ... Look at these crowds of people!"
He added that he wanted to "shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot of people."
El Bahnsawy expressed his desire to mimic the 2015 slaughter in Paris that left 130 people dead after Islamic terrorists attacked cafes and a concert hall.
"(W)e just walk in with guns in our hands," he wrote. "That's how the Paris guys did it."
On May 5, 2016, Haroon said that the subway was also a "perfect" target, proposing that they should shoot as many passengers on the train as possible, including "women or kids," and that "when we run out of bullets we let the vests go off."
"NY Needs to fall," he added. "It's a must."
While the group agreed that they would attempt to carry out their devious conspiracy during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which fell in June last year, Haroon tossed around the idea of executing the attacks as early as Memorial Day.
"I wanna kill ... them in thousands" he said. "(W)e have to make a ocean out of their blood(.) Leave no one standing."
That same month, while in Canada, El Bahnasawy bought 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, an ingredient in TATP, a powerful explosive used in IEDs.
He also bought batteries, Christmas lights, thermometers, and aluminum foil for use in building explosive devices.
Salic, known as "Abu Khalid" and "the doctor," bragged about supplying money for ISIS operations in several different countries and offered $500 to fund the operation.
He told the undercover officer that he could easily slip the money into the U.S. from the Philippines without attracting the attention of authorities.
"(I)ts not strict here. Unli(k)e in Aus(Australia) or Uk (the United Kingdom) even liking FB (Facebook) status will put u in jail," he wrote.
"Terrorists from all over the world usually come here as a breeding ground for terrorists ... hahahaha ... But no worry here in Philippines. They dont care bout IS (Islamic State)..loll(.) Only in West."
El Bahnasawy was arrested in May 2016 in Cranford, N.J., after traveling to the U.S. from Canada.
He has already copped to terrorism offenses and will be sentenced Dec. 12.
Haroon was caught in Pakistan in September 2016 and Salic was arrested in April, in the Philippines, according to officials.
The feds are awaiting the pair's extradition to the U.S.
The NYPD and FBI have foiled similar plots in the past.
In 2010, Faisal Shahzad nearly pulled off his plan to detonate a car bomb in the Crossroads of the World, but the homemade explosive in the back of his SUV never went off.
The Pakistani immigrant was arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
A year earlier, federal authorities were able to prevent a cell of al-Qaida-linked terrorists from carrying out their plans to plant bombs on subway trains.
Last September, 30 people were injured when a crude, homemade bomb made out of a pressure cooker exploded in the Chelsea neighborhood.
The suspected bomber, 29-year-old Ahmad Rahimi, is now on trial.
The NYPD declined comment on the joint operation with federal authorities outlined in the indictments Friday.
The MTA would not comment on the specific plot.
"We work closely with our partners at the NYPD, state, and federal law enforcement to ensure the safety of our system," MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said.
Dan Rivoli contributed to this story.
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