A Pakistani-American was arrested Wednesday for plotting to cause carnage on Washington's subway system by carrying out bomb attacks with people he believed were tied to al-Qaida, officials said.
Farooque Ahmed, 34, had been allegedly observing, videotaping and photographing Metro stations in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, including stations at the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, since April to plan the attacks, which would have been carried out next year.
He is alleged to have told contacts whom he met over the course of six months, and believed to be linked to al-Qaida, that he wanted to "kill as many military personnel as possible" and suggested where bombs should be planted on Metro trains "to kill the most people."
"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," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security told reporters.
Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan, appeared in a Virginia court Wednesday afternoon to hear the charges against him.
They include attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack, and attempting to provide help to carry out multiple bombings and cause mass casualties in the Washington area.
If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 50 years.
According to the indictment, Ahmed allegedly spent months doing the groundwork for the attacks after an initial meeting in April with a courier he met at a Virginia hotel, whom he believed had links to al-Qaida.
On several occasions over the next few months, Ahmed allegedly photographed, videotaped and drew diagrams of Metro stations in Washington's nearby Virginia suburbs, including the station at Arlington Cemetery, where military personnel and several U.S. presidents are buried, and two stations at the Pentagon.
He allegedly gathered information about security and the busiest times at the Metro stations, and handed the data last month to "an individual he believed to be affiliated with al-Qaida," the indictment says.
He allegedly suggested "where explosives should be placed on trains at Arlington Cemetery, Courthouse and Pentagon City Metrorail stations to kill the most people in simultaneous attacks planned for 2011," and said the best time to carry out the attacks would be at the start of the evening rush hour.
According to the indictment, Ahmed suggested that rolling suitcases be used instead of backpacks to carry the bombs into the Metro stations, and suggested an additional attack be mounted at another station near the Pentagon, saying he "wanted to kill as many military personnel as possible."
"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," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said.
The White House said the U.S. public was never in danger from the alleged plot, and that President Barack Obama had been aware of it before Ahmed's arrest.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Justice Department, the FBI and national security officials had been on "top of this case from the beginning."
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) which runs the Metro also said the public and Metro employees were never in danger during the investigation.
"The FBI was aware of Mr Ahmed's activities from before the alleged attempt began and closely monitored him until his arrest," WMATA said.
The US media ran headlines and stories indicating that the months-long operation that led to Ahmed's arrest had been an FBI sting, but an official close to the case refused to comment.
Ahmed is being held by U.S. marshals and will appear in court again on Friday for a detention hearing, said Carr.
Ahmed's arrest adds to the list of U.S. homegrown terrorists charged or convicted of terrorism crimes.
They include blonde, blue-eyed Colleen LaRose, who took the online name JihadJane and wanted to use her looks to "blend in" in Sweden and kill a cartoonist, and David Headley, the son of a former Pakistani diplomat and an American woman, who has confessed to plotting the coordinated attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which killed 166.(AFP)
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