October 17, 2012 | Issue Brief on Homeland Security
On Wednesday, federal authorities arrested a man outside the Federal Reserve Bank in Lower Manhattan in an attempt to detonate a van he believed to be laced with explosives. The man had been under close surveillance by the FBI for some time, and the explosives were rendered inoperable.
While it appears that the public was never in danger, this latest attempted attack marks the 53rd thwarted terrorist plot against the United States since 9/11 and serves as a stark reminder that terrorists continue to plot against America.
Federal Reserve Bank Plot
According to reports by the FBI, 21-year-old Bangladeshi citizen Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis came to the U.S. in January 2012 on a student visa with the explicit goal of carrying out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Upon arriving in the U.S., Nafis actively sought out al-Qaeda contacts within the U.S. to assist him in carrying out an attack. Unbeknownst to Nafis, one of the individuals he sought to recruit for his terrorist cell turned out to be an FBI informant.
Nafis allegedly considered and surveilled multiple targets in Manhattan’s financial district, including the New York Stock Exchange, before settling on the Federal Reserve Bank. Undercover agents supplied Nafis with 20 50-pound bags of explosives. Nafis then purchased components for the weapons detonator and assembled what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb inside a van in a nearby warehouse.
In discussing the attack, Nafis indicated that he had a “Plan B” that entailed a suicide bombing in the event that the attack was about to be thwarted by police. Nafis further stated: “I came up to this conclusion that targeting America’s economy is most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America.”
Immediately before attempting to detonate the vehicle bomb, Nafis also recorded a video statement to the American public, in which he stated: “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom.” While it appears that Nafis sought to carry out his attack in the name of al-Qaeda, it is not yet clear whether he had direct support from any foreign terrorist organizations.
Combating the Continued Threat of Terrorism
At least 53 publicly known Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11. Of these, 13 have involved New York City as a target, second only to domestic military targets, showing that terrorists continue to seek to strike at the heart of the U.S.
In order to combat the continued threat of terrorism on U.S. soil, Congress and the Administration should:
Though it is encouraging that, since 9/11, 53 terror plots against the U.S. have failed, the U.S. cannot afford to become complacent. Exploiting America’s visa system, Quazi Nafis sought to attack the center of the U.S. financial system. Continued vigilance is needed, as are critical reforms of visa coordination and information sharing.
—Jessica Zuckerman is a Research Associate in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, complaint United States of America vs. Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, October 17, 2012, http://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/nafis-complaint.pdf (accessed October 17, 2012).