Bangladeshi national Ashiqul Alam, who immigrated to the US and received permanent residency there, has been charged with planning an attack on one of New York’s most recognisable spots, Times Square, which is visited by millions of people annually.
The plotter, who acted alone, according to court filings, was arrested in Brooklyn on 6 June as he attempted to buy two Glock 19 handguns for his planned massacre.
“There is more to this case than just talk and the desire to carry out a terrorist attack… [Alam] took the steps to follow through on his deadly impulse, purchasing weapons to kill New Yorkers, target an elected official and attack police officers”, New York’s senior FBI official William Sweeney told the news agency AFP.
Although it has still not been revealed how the security services identified the would-be terrorist, NY Daily News reported earlier that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, as well as NYPD officers, had discovered information about his queries into buying grenades.
According to the charges, he first met an undercover agent almost a year ago. During their meetings, the suspected plotter praised Daesh, “spoke approvingly” of the 9/11 attacks and voiced his desire to follow in the terrorists’ footesteps.
Although the agent and the suspect discussed blowing themselves up in New York or Washington, they eventually decided to carry out an attack using a rifle or handguns and grenades. Over the winter, both visited Times Square together, where the plotter filmed possible locations for the assault. Alam, who said that he wanted to kill gay men, also turned to the agent for assistance to provide him with weapons. They travelled to a shooting range together where the Bangladeshi admitted that he wanted “to die fighting”.
Apart from finding weapons and surveilling the area, his plan for an attack allegedly included LASIK surgery. According to the agent who contacted him, Alam, who wears glasses, feared that he would be mocked.
“Let’s say we are in an attack, right, say that my glasses fall off. What if I accidentally shoot you?… You know what I mean. Imagine what the news channel would call me the ‘Looney Tunes Terrorist’ or the “Blind Terrorist'”, he reportedly told the agent.
Times Square has been a frequent target of ambitious terrorists because of its reputation as the "Crossroads of the World".
Despite the heavily strengthened police presence, Times Square, which receives millions of visitors each year, has been the target of at least two such plots in recent years.
One of the attackers was US military veteran Richard Rojas, who rammed his car into a crowd in 2017, killing one and injuring 22 other people. While there were no links between Rojas and Daesh, three other plotters, arrested a year before that, wanted to bomb Times Square and the city subway as part of a jihad.