The FBI’s surveillance of Quazi Nafis, the alleged terror suspect who tried to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank, included Facebook chats between Nafis, a co-conspirator and a confidential FBI source, according to a copy of the indictment released on Wednesday.
The indictment details a months-long investigation of Nafis, a 21 year-old Bangladeshi and Queens, New York, resident who entered the U.S. on a visa in January, 2012. While much of the surveillance consisted of recorded phone- and in person conversations, Nafis also used Facebook in July to debate with his co-conspirators about whether his planned act of jihad was sanctioned under Muslim law.
Nafis was arrested in New York’s financial district Wednesday after he attempted to detonate what he believed was a truck bomb parked outside the New York Federal Reserve bank. The bomb was assembled by Nafis and a co-conspirator using inert materials supplied by the FBI.
Following his arrest, he appeared in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday where he was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and providing material support to the terror group al-Qaeda. He did not enter a plea and was ordered held without bail.
Communicating over a U.S. based social network is almost certainly not a tactic used by al-Qaeda members, the government’s indictment paints Nafis as anything but that. Rather, the 21-year-old was desperate to be a part of the terror group, coming onto the government’s radar after he tried to recruit a FBI source to be part of a terror plot. According to the government, Nafis frequently expressed the desire to carry out a “big” attack that would disrupt the U.S. economy and even the ongoing U.S. Presidential election. He also took pains to make sure that al-Qaeda would claim responsibility for his attack after it was complete.
Nafis also wanted to square his actions with his Muslim faith: seeking advice in Facebook chat sessions from both a co-conspirator and the government’s confidential source on the lawfulness of his actions under Muslim law.
“During the period between July 6, 2012 and July 8, 2012, NAFIS, the CO-CONSPIRATOR and the CHS began to communicate via Facebook, ” the complaint reads. “During these communications…the three discussed certain Islamic legal rulings that advise that it is unlawful for a person who enters a country with a visa to wage jihad there. NAFIS stated that he had conferred with another individual in Bangladesh and was advised that he was not bound by such rulings. Accordingly, NAFIS indicated that he believed that he was free to continue with his plan to conduct a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” The FBI recorded the sessions with the consent of their confidential source.
Both governments and terrorist networks have latched onto online media and social networks including Facebook and Twitter to help them achieve their mission. Nafis said he was swayed to support al-Qaeda after reading Inspire, the group’s online magazine in his native Bangladesh. The government contends that he hatched the idea of carrying out a terrorist attack in the U.S. on his own and traveled to the company explicitly for the purpose of carrying out the attack.
The FBI has issued a call for proposals for a system that it can use to mine a wide array of social networks, automating the process of monitoring blogs, web site comments, Twitter, Facebook and other information troves for the beginnings of what might be terrorist plots or uprisings.