By Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Imran Vittachi
A man charged by U.S. authorities in an alleged plot to carry out an Islamic militant-inspired terrorist attack in New York is not a citizen of Bangladesh as claimed by American officials, the country’s home minister told BenarNews on Saturday.
Authorities announced Friday that they had charged Ashiqul Alam, a 22-year-old green card holder, in a Brooklyn federal court on suspicion of trying to buy weapons illegally, and said this was part of a plot by him to attack civilians and policemen in Times Square. Court papers seen by BenarNews identified him as a Bangladeshi citizen.
“He is not our citizen. He is a U.S. green card holder. So, this is not our headache to think about the man,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, as Bangladeshi officials commented publicly for the first time about Alam’s arrest in the American financial hub.
Alam is the second Bangladeshi immigrant to have been arrested and charged in less than two years in connection with separate terrorist plots targeting the crowded Times Square area in the heart of Manhattan, according to American officials.
“His parents are of Bangladeshi origin. This does not mean that Bangladesh will shoulder the responsibility of misdeeds or criminal offenses of any American of Bangladeshi origin,” Khan said of Alam, adding that he should be tried under U.S. laws. Khan said he had no details about Alam’s place of origin in Bangladesh.
The suspect was also plotting to kill a senior American official in Washington, U.S. authorities alleged in court papers. Alam was taken into custody as part of an FBI sting operation on June 6.
“The arrested youth Ashiqul is a U.S. green card holder. Currently we do not have any information about Ashiqul and his family members,” Md Haider Ali Khan, a Bangladeshi assistant inspector general of police, told BenarNews.
“We do not have any role in the immigration process of the U.S. government,” he said.
In some cases, he said, American immigration officials “want to know from us whether an applicant for a visa has a criminal record. We provide them the necessary information.”
Last November, a federal court in Manhattan convicted Bangladeshi national Akayed Ullah on terrorism charges, when it found him guilty of detonating a pipe bomb in a tunnel of the subway system near Times Square in December 2017.
American law enforcement officials described it as an Islamic State-inspired attack. Ullah was seriously injured in the blast in which he strapped the bomb to himself. A few other bystanders sustained shrapnel wounds.
“Two years ago, we heard about the arrest of a youth of Bangladeshi origin. Both Ashiqul [Alam] and Akayed Ullah could have been radicalized in the U.S., not in Bangladesh,” Haider Khan, the Bangladeshi police official, told Benar.
‘Better than prison, right?’
Before his own arrest on Thursday, Alam lived in New York’s Queens borough and was studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the city, news reports said.
He moved to the United States from Bangladesh when he was 12 years old, the Associated Press reported, quoting Alam’s attorney.
“As alleged, Ashiqul Alam bought illegal weapons as part of his plan to kill law enforcement officers and civilians in a terrorist attack on Times Square,” Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement issued Friday by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“What he did not know was that he was buying weapons from government agents, who were monitoring his plans and intervening to prevent those plans from escalating into deadly violence.”
According to an affidavit given by Sean Dillon, an FBI special agent assigned to the bureau’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, an undercover officer, identified in the court document as “UC-1,” met with Alam on multiple occasions between August 2018 and June 6, the day of his arrest.
Their meetings included at least two road trips to Pennsylvania, where they went together for firearms training at a shooting range.
During their encounters, Alam “spoke approvingly” about the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States and expressed his admiration for al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). He also articulated a desire to purchase firearms and explosives for mounting an attack in the New York City area, Dillon said.
Alam praised late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, saying his mission was “a complete success” because thousands of American servicemen had died and the U.S. spent trillions of dollars in wars that followed the 9/11 attacks, according to the affidavit.
“Yeah … he did his job [.] He did what he was supposed to do. Now it’s up to us,” the court document quoted Alam as saying about bin Laden.
During another conversation UC-1 asked Alam whether he was willing to wear a suicide vest.
“Yeah man, that shit is painless … you die right away,” he replied. “Better than prison, right?”
During the same chat, Alam told the undercover officer that they could use the vest in an attack during a large event in New York or in a plot to kill a senior U.S. government official in the nation’s capital, the affidavit stated.
“There is more to this case than just talk and the desire to carry out a terrorist attack. Individuals who believe in the distorted and deadly propaganda of terrorist organizations and work toward acting on those deadly impulses are incredibly dangerous and unpredictable,” William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said according to the DOJ statement.
“Mr. Alam allegedly then took the steps to follow through on his deadly impulse, purchasing weapons to kill New Yorkers, target an elected official and attack police officers.
Alam was picked up Thursday after he purchased two Glock G19 semi-automatic pistols, whose serial numbers were obliterated, from undercover agents in Brooklyn, the affidavit said.
“Mr. Alam discussed guns, suicide vests, hand grenades, and surveilled crowded New York targets such as Times Square”, said James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner.
“Our job is to prevent these terrorist attacks whenever we can before they are carried out…. Mr. Alam is charged with illegally purchasing untraceable firearms from undercover officers. That was a clear indicator of his intent to move his plot forward.”
At his court appearance in Brooklyn on Friday, Alam did not enter a plea. Defense attorney James Darrow argued that his client should be released on a bond of U.S. $200,000 because, he said, Alam had “a solid background” and had not yet been charged with terrorism-related offenses, AP reported.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak denied the request and ordered Alam jailed without bail.