Federal law enforcement authorities are investigating a nascent plot to carry out a series of terrorist bombings at stations in the Washington Metro system, according to intelligence and law enforcement sources. -Washington Post
Feds arrest N.Va. man in D.C. Metro bomb plot
By Peter Finn , Greg Miller and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 3:54 PM
Federal law enforcement authorities have arrested a Northern Virginia man in connection with an alleged plot to carry out a series of terrorist bombings at stations in the Washington Metro system, according to a federal indictment.
Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn, conspired with people he believed to be al-Qaeda operatives to attack the stations at Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon City, Crystal City and Court House, the indictment said.
An administration official said Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan, first drew the attention of law enforcement officials by seeking to obtain unspecified materials. He later became the target of an undercover sting operation, officials said.
According to the indictment, in April Ahmed began to meet in hotels in Northern Virginia with people he believed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization. He agreed to conduct video surveillance of the stations, suggested the best time to attack and the best place to place explosives to maximize casualties, the indictment alleges.
“Today’s case underscores the need for continued vigilance against terrorist threats and demonstrates how the government can neutralize such threats before they come to fruition,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. “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.”
The planned attack was not imminent, officials said, stressing that the public was never in any danger.
Ahmed was arrested early Wednesday and later appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on terrorism charges.
Sporting a full beard and wearing a gray polo shirt and blue jeans, Ahmed shook his head and let out a deep sigh as the charges against him were read. “Yes, yes,” Ahmed said, as the judge told him the charges were serious.
Judge John F. Anderson ordered him held until a detention hearing Friday.
Ahmed, who holds a BS in computer science from City University of New York, worked in Northern Virginia at Ericsson, a telecommunications company, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was pursuing a graduate degree online in risk management and data security at Aspen University, according to LinkedIn.
A neighbor of Ahmed said that on Wednesday afternoon FBI agents with terrorism task force jackets were still combing through the brick townhouse in Ashburn where Ahmed lived.
Ahmed has a wife and young son, said the neighbor, Shaya Fitzgerald, 39, a physician assistant who lives across the street.
Ahmed’s wife “wore a full hijab, the whole thing. She seemed relatively young,” Fitzgerald said. “He had a full beard. . . . My only impression of him was that he was not that sociable.”
Ahmed’s wife is from Birmingham, England, and is an organizer of a group in Northern Virginia called “Hip Muslim Moms.”
According to the indictment, Ahmed planned to attend the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, next month and told the people he who believed were his co-conspirators that he would be ready to go overseas “to conduct jihad” in January.
Fitzgerald said she had few interactions with the Ahmed family, other than to exchange waves across the street. “You never think you’re going to hear yourself saying ‘They kept to themselves and were quiet neighbors,’ but they kept to themselves and were quiet neighbors.”
Fitzgerald said that other neighbors told her that as many as 20 FBI agents had entered the Ahmed house earlier Wednesday and were “all over the street” when she arrived home in the afternoon.
Despite the news of Ahmed’s arrest, Metro riders said they felt secure.
Edith Sowe, 35, of Silver Spring, said she feels “relatively safe,” especially when she sees Metro police on her train or at Union Station about once a week.
“At least it gives you the impression that they’re trying to be proactive and aren’t waiting for something bad to happen before they respond,” Sowe said, as she waited for a Red Line train at the Rockville station. “I think the main thing is people need to be alert and pay attention because Metro can only do so much.”
Unlike other U.S. citizens implicated in recent terrorism plots, Ahmed does not appear to have received overseas training from al-Qaeda or any of its affiliates, intelligence sources said. In previous investigations, however, it has taken time to establish overseas links.
The arrest is the latest in a series of cases involving U.S. citizens, including another Pakistani American, who was convicted of planning to set off a car bomb in Times Square, that have raised concerns about an increasing number of Americans drawn to violent jihad.
Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old Connecticut resident, was sentenced to life in prison this month; the bomb he left in a car in Times Square in May failed to detonate.
In other instances, suspects were caught in sting operations.
Earlier this month, a Jordanian man was sentenced to 24 years in prison for attempting to use of a weapon of mass destruction to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. Hosam Smadi, 20, was arrested in September 2009 after leaving what he thought was a truck bomb but was instead a decoy device provided by FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives.
Another man, Michael Finton, 29, awaits trial in March on similar charges, after driving an FBI-supplied van that he believed contained a ton of explosives to blow up the Paul Findley Federal Building and Courthouse in Springfield, Ill., also in September 2009.
At a recent Senate hearing, Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the United States was experiencing a “spike in homegrown violent extremist activity,” some of it involving individuals who were radicalized over the Internet.
Since 2009, more than 6o U.S. citizens have been charged or convicted in terrorism cases, according to federal officials.
Staff writers Anne E. Kornblut, Jerry Markon, Ann Scott Tyson and Katherine Shaver and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.