WASHINGTON — A Pakistani-born Virginia man was arrested Wednesday and charged with trying to help people posing as al-Qaida operatives plot to bomb Washington area subway stations.
The bombing plot was a ruse over the past six months, the FBI said, but 34-year-old Farooque Ahmed readily handed over video of northern Virginia subway stations, suggested using rolling suitcases rather than backpacks to kill as many people as possible and offered to donate money to al-Qaida's cause overseas.
FBI and law enforcement investigators leave the home of Farooque Ahmed in Ashburn, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 27. 2010. Ahmed was arrested Wednesday and charged with trying to help people he believed were al-Qaida operatives planning to bomb subway stations around the nation's capital, the FBI said. (AP Photo)
In an Associated Press report this week, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that “his agency will continue to use informants inside American mosques.”
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The public never was in danger because FBI agents were aware of Ahmed's activities and monitored him throughout, the agency said. And the people that Ahmed thought were al-Qaida operatives were actually individuals who "worked on behalf of the government in this matter," according to a federal law enforcement official who requested anonymity to discuss details of the case.
Ahmed was indicted under seal by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va. on Tuesday, and the charges were made public Wednesday. He is accused of attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempting to provide material support to carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties. Ahmed, a naturalized citizen, lives in Ashburn, Va., outside Washington.
During a brief court appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Ahmed did not enter a plea and was ordered held without bond. He told U.S. Magistrate Judge John Anderson he couldn't afford to hire a lawyer. Prosecutors said they planned to use some classified information as evidence in the case.
U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement that it was "chilling that a man from Ashburn is accused of casing rail stations with the goal of killing as many Metro riders as possible through simultaneous bomb attacks."
Federal investigators said that, starting in April, Ahmed met several times with people he believed were al-Qaida operatives. During one of those meetings, investigators said, he agreed to watch and photograph a hotel in Washington and a subway station in Arlington, Va. He also was accused of recording video of an Arlington subway station on four occasions, and agreeing to get security information about two stations.
According to the indictment: Ahmed took video of four northern Virginia subway stations — Arlington Cemetery, Courthouse, Pentagon City and Crystal City, which is near the Pentagon — and monitored security at a hotel in the District of Columbia. In a series of meetings at hotels in northern Virginia, Ahmed provided the videos to someone he believed was part of a terrorist organization and said he wanted to donate $10,000 help the overseas fight and collect donations in a way that would not raise red flags.
—In a Sept. 28 meeting in a Herndon, Va. hotel, Ahmed also suggested that terror operatives use rolling suitcases to blow up the subway instead of backpacks. During that same meeting Ahmed said he wanted to kill as many military personnel as possible and suggested an additional attack on a Crystal City subway station.
The indictment alleges he also handed over diagrams of the Arlington subway stations and gave suggestions about where to put explosives on trains to kill the most people in simultaneous attacks planned for 2011.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was aware of the investigation before Ahmed was arrested. Gibbs also offered assurances that the public was never in danger.
In a statement, David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said the case "demonstrates how the government can neutralize such threats before they come to fruition."
"Farooque Ahmed is accused of plotting with individuals he believed were terrorists to bomb our transit system, but a coordinated law enforcement and intelligence effort was able to thwart his plans," Kris said.
Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the FBI Washington field office, declined to comment on how authorities learned about Ahmed.
Ahmed faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
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A LinkedIn page that was created for Farooque Ahmed identifies him as a network planning engineer with a bachelor's degree in computer science from the City College of New York in 2003, during the same period that other records showed he had been living in New York.