NEW YORK - Three Islamic State group sympathizers plotted to cause bloodshed at New York City concert venues, subway stations and Times Square before U.S. agents thwarted the international terror plot, authorities said Friday.
One of the defendants, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, was arrested after traveling from Canada to New Jersey in May 2016 to stage the attacks, authorities said. The capture of the Canadian citizen came after an investigation using an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic extremist that also led to the arrests last year of U.S. citizen Talha Haroon in Pakistan and Russell Salic in the Philippines, where he's a citizen.
According to criminal complaints, El Bahnasawy, 19, sent the undercover agent an image of Times Square with a smartphone message saying, “We seriously need to car bomb times square. Look at these crowds of people!”
In another, he expressed a desire to “shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot people. ... We just walk in with guns in our hands. That's how Paris guys did it,” the papers said in an apparent reference to the slaughter by men armed with assault weapons at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris during a performance of the rock group Eagles of Death Metal in 2015.
The complaints unsealed Friday did not name the New York City venues.
The undercover agent and El Bahnasawy also were in communication with the 19-year-old Haroon, who wanted to join El Bahnasawy in New York City for the attacks, authorities said. Haroon, who at one point met with an explosives expert in Pakistan for information on building bombs, told the undercover agent the subway was a “perfect” place to shoot passengers, and that “when we run out of bullets we let the vests go off,” the court papers said.
After Haroon talked about what was needed to build explosives, El Bahnasawy bought 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, batteries, Christmas lights, thermometers and other ingredients commonly used in homemade bombs, authorities said. He later shipped the material to the undercover agent in the United States, where he and Haroon planned to use a cabin in a rural area within driving distance of the city to build bombs and take target practice, they said.
Salic, 37, was accused of sending money to help fund the attacks, court papers said. He told the undercover agent his ultimate goal was to join the Islamic State group in Syria but that “it would be a great pleasure if we can slaughter” people in New York, the papers said.
El Bahnasawy pleaded guilty in October 2016, but the case was sealed while the investigation continued. His attorney, Sabrina Shroff, declined to comment Friday.
Haroon and Salic were awaiting extradition overseas. It's not clear if they have attorneys.
All three men face possible terms of live in prison on charges including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it assisted the FBI in the investigation.
“At no time was the safety or security of the public at risk,” it said.