Federal agents have arrested a Pakistani-American for plotting terrorist attacks on Washington's busy metro system, United States officials said on Thursday. Farooque Ahmed, 34, a naturalised US-national born in Pakistan, was arrested late on Wednesday and made his first court appearance in Alexandria.
He had been allegedly photographing subway stations since April to plan simultaneous bomb attacks, they said. "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," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at no point was the public in any danger and the President was aware of these developments. "It's 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," said US Attorney Neil H MacBride.
"Today's arrest highlights the terrorism threat that exists in Northern Virginia and our ability to find those seeking to harm US citizens and neutralise them before they can act. We are grateful for the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in detecting and disrupting this plot," he said.
On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returned a three-count indictment against Ahmed, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organisation, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempting to provide material support to help carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties at Washington DC - area metro rail stations.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. According to the indictment, from April 2010 till October 25, Ahmed attempted to assist others whom he believed to be members of the Al Qaeda [ Images ] in planning multiple bombings to cause mass casualties at Metrorail stations.
On April 18, Ahmed allegedly drove to a hotel in Dulles, Virginia and met with a courier he believed to be affiliated with a terrorist organisation. The courier provided him with a document that provided potential locations at which future meetings could be arranged.
On May 15, at a hotel in Herndon, Virginia, Ahmed allegedly agreed to watch and photograph another hotel in Washington, DC, and a Metrorail station in Arlington, Virginia, to obtain information about their security and busiest periods. According to the indictment, Ahmed allegedly participated in surveillance and recorded video images of Metrorail stations in Arlington, Virginia, on four occasions.
On July 19, in a hotel room in Sterling, Virginia, Ahmed allegedly handed a memory stick containing video images of a Metrorail station in Arlington to an individual whom Ahmed believed to be affiliated with the Al Qaeda.
On that same day, Ahmed allegedly agreed to assess the security of two other Metrorail stations in Arlington as locations of terrorist attacks.
The indictment further alleges that, on September 28, in a hotel room in Herndon, Ahmed handed a USB drive containing images of two Metrorail stations in Arlington to an individual whom Ahmed believed to be affiliated with the Al Qaeda.
According to the indictment, on September 28, Ahmed provided to an individual, whom he believed to be affiliated with the Al Qaeda, diagrams that he drew of three Metrorail stations in Arlington and provided suggestions as to where explosives should be placed on trains in Metrorail stations in Arlington to kill the most people in simultaneous attacks planned for 2011.