The tip that led to the FBI's subway-bombing-plot sting came from a source in the Muslim community, law-enforcement officials said Thursday.
WASHINGTON — The tip that led to the FBI’s subway-bombing-plot sting came from a source in the Muslim community, law-enforcement officials said Thursday.
The tipster said a Pakistani-born man from a middle-class suburb was trying to join a terrorist group, the officials said.
Farooque Ahmed, a naturalized citizen arrested in an alleged plot to blow up subway stations in the Washington, D.C., area, is a married father who had a good job with a telecommunications company. Authorities said he also was eager to kill Americans in Afghanistan and committed to becoming a martyr.
Ahmed thought he had found what he wanted, two al-Qaida operatives who would help him carry out an attack on the nation’s second-busiest subway system, according to court documents unsealed Thursday. But the operatives were undercover investigators whose meetings at a local hotel room were staged with FBI cameras rolling, law-enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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What followed was an elaborate ruse in which Ahmed was given intelligence-gathering duties and coded information in a Quran as part of the supposed plot to kill commuters.
Ahmed, 34, was taped discussing his firearm, martial-arts and knife skills and offering to teach those tactics to others, according to an FBI affidavit. Officials said they took guns and ammunition out of the suburban Ashburn, Va., town house he shared with his English-born wife, Sahar Mirza-Ahmed, and young son, during a search Wednesday.
Ahmed was arrested just weeks before he planned to make the annual religious pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the FBI said. The case represents the latest in a recent string of would-be terrorist attacks that officials say were aided, hatched or carried out by U.S. citizens.
Like the accused gunman in the Fort Hood, Texas, killings and the terrorist who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square, officials said they believe Ahmed was radicalized inside the U.S. But they do not know what sent him down that path.
Ahmed’s lawyer, federal public defender Kenneth Troccoli, declined to comment on the case Thursday.
Ahmed, born in Lahore, Pakistan, arrived in the U.S. in 1993 and became a citizen in 2005, officials said. He worshipped at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, which is known for its mainstream Islamic congregation. Leaders there have decried violence and were quick to call for Ahmed’s prosecution. He was not a member of the society, said board member Robert Marro. “He comes in just for prayer services and then leaves right after,” Marro said.
Ahmed was a contractor with the telecommunications company Ericsson Services. Company spokeswoman Kathy Egan said he never worked on the company’s government contracts, including ones with the Pentagon, and never had access to classified information.
In court documents, FBI agent Charles Dayoub said Ahmed was lured by an e-mail to his first meeting with a supposed al-Qaida liaison. At the April 18 meeting, in the lobby of a hotel near Washington Dulles International Airport, Ahmed accepted a Quran containing coded documents for the locations of future meetings, Dayoub wrote.
It was a setup. Ahmed took eagerly to his assignments, court documents said. He videotaped four Northern Virginia subway stations, suggested using rolling suitcases instead of backpacks to pack the explosives and said he wanted to donate $10,000 to help the overseas fight.
Dayoub said Ahmed had an associate who accompanied Ahmed while he conducted surveillance of subway systems. The associate is not suspected of wrongdoing, officials said, indicating he was cooperating with investigators all along.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd would provide no details on the associate’s identity or the identity of the original tipster.
The FBI and Obama administration officials have said the public was never in danger because FBI agents had Ahmed under tight surveillance before the sting was begun and until his arrest.
Ahmed faces charges of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. He is due in court Friday, when prosecutors will argue he is too dangerous to be released while awaiting trial.
Neighbor Margaret Petney said Ahmed moved to the rented three-story brick town house about a year and a half ago with his wife and son, and that they wore traditional Muslim clothing.
Neighbors said the family was polite but reserved.
Ahmed’s wife joined the Hip Muslim Moms, a support group, and brought her son to play dates, said organizer Esraa Bani.
Bani said Mirza-Ahmed was well-liked. “They’re a regular, everyday family,” she said. “That’s why it’s very shocking to hear this.”