ISLAMABAD: A US citizen of Pakistani origin was planning to carry out Paris-style attacks on “heavily populated areas” in New York City, revealed a report shared by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with Pakistani authorities.
The FBI report, handed over to the interior ministry for extradition of the 18-year-old suspect Talha Haroon, says that he, along with his co-conspirator and an undercover FBI agent, “plotted to carry out deadly bombings in heavily populated areas of New York City in the name of the [IS]”.
The report claimed that Haroon was stationed in Pakistan in April of last year and planned attacks on the New York Subway, Times Square and a concert.
The report also claimed that Mr Haroon had been associated with the Taliban in the past and had later switched his allegiance to IS.
The FBI report mentioned that IS had claimed responsibility for the following terrorist attacks: “On or about November 13, and 14, 2015 a group of attackers carried out attacks in Paris, France which killed approximately 130 people; On or about March 22, 2016, a group of attackers carried out bombings in Brussels, Belgium, which killed at least 32 people; On or about June 12, 2016, an attacker carried out a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing approximately 49 people”.
But the 64-page report did not disclose how the teenager was inducted into IS or how much funding the terrorist group had committed or provided to the suspects.
The report quoted a communication between Mr Haroon with the undercover agent: “While he (Haroon) did not presently have enough money to buy a plane ticket from Pakistan to New York City for [the] purpose of carrying out the attack, he would do everything in [his] power to get a ticket, including selling some of his personal property.”
The report also singled out “an unidentified co-conspirator… being associated with a certain overseas country, as a prospective contributor to funding for the attack on New York City”. The report claimed that the unidentified financier sent “several hundred dollars” for the operation.
The report claimed that the suspects wanted to carry out terrorist attacks between June and July 2016.
The investigators mainly relied upon communications between the co-conspirator, the undercover agent and Mr Haroon, who they believed wanted to kill scores of Americans.
The FBI report quoted a communication between the co-conspirator and Mr Haroon from May 12, 2016: “We just walk in with guns in our hands. That’s how the Paris guys did it. You just walk in and shoot anyone who says anything.”
According to Special Agent Oscar M. Gifford of the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who was a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigating the case: “I believe the co-conspirator’s reference to the ‘Paris guys’ was a reference to the IS supporters who planned and executed joint terrorist attacks at various locations, including a concert hall in Paris, France, on or about November 13 and 14, 2015. Based on my review of open source materials, I am aware that IS claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.”
The report claimed that Mr Haroon wanted to carry out an attack in NYC around June 2016. It said that the suspects “identified multiple potential targets of their plot to launch terrorist attacks in New York City”. One target was the New York subway, Times Square was another. The report claimed that the suspects “discussed plans to detonate a car bomb in Times Square”.
According to the report, on or about Sept 22, 2016, the FBI was advised that Mr Haroon had recently been taken into custody in Pakistan. On Sept 27, Mr Haroon was charged in a criminal complaint before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The complaint charged Mr Haroon on five counts of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit act of terrorism, conspiring to bomb a place of public use and public transportation, conspiring to provide material support or resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation.
Each of the five charges count as a separate offence and each charged offence is punishable under US law with more than one year of imprisonment.
But even though the Islamabad district administration completed the process of Mr Haroon’s extradition at the request of US authorities, the Islamabad High Court stayed the extradition on March 27, 2017 with a direction to the federal government to respond to a petition filed by Mr Haroon’s father.
The petitioner had claimed that since Mr Haroon did not commit any offence in the US, the American government could not seek his custody.
Ayesha Haroon, the suspect’s sister who is also a US citizen, told Dawn that her brother had been in Pakistan for 14 months and could not have planned the series of attacks he was accused of plotting. She insisted that the case against her brother was baseless.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2017