Friday, October 19, 2012








The media has reported as follows regarding the arrest of a Bangladeshi national in the US on a charge of plotting to carry out an act of terrorism on behalf of Al Qaeda in the US:

“Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested on Wednesday (October 17,2012) and faces charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda.

“ Nafis appeared in a Brooklyn court on Wednesday. The criminal complaint against him said he had entered the United States in January and that he had said he was in contact with members of al Qaeda overseas. The complaint said he had travelled by van with a man to a New York warehouse where Nafis assembled what he thought was a 1,000-pound (450-kg) bomb.

“ The man he believed to be an accomplice was in fact an undercover agent working for the FBI and the explosives were not in working condition. He was arrested later in a hotel . Nafis had been a business student at North South University, a prestigious private institution in Bangladesh, before leaving to study computer science in the United States. His father, a senior vice president of a private bank, said Nafis was the more religious of his two children, but in no way a fanatic.”

2. Other details available through media briefing by the US authorities indicate as follows: “ Nafis actively sought out other Al Qaeda contacts in the US to help him carry out a terror attack. One of the individuals he had attempted to recruit was a source for the FBI.FBI agents and the New York Police closely monitored Nafis as he attempted to implement his plan.” He wanted to blow up the Federal Reserve building in New York.

3. Even though the criminal complaint filed against Nafis in the Brooklyn court alleged that he “was in contact with members of Al Qaeda overseas”, no details of these contacts have been given. All that one knows is that Nafis wanted to recruit a person in New York, who was, in fact, a source of the FBI. He reported the matter to the FBI and on their instructions introduced Nafis to an FBI operative.

4. It would seem that all the subsequent meetings of  Nafis were with this FBI operative who posed as close to Al Qaeda and that this FBI operative arranged for him what he described as explosives which, in fact, were not. All the discussions of Nafis took place not with an Al Qaeda member, but with the FBI operative who posed as an Al Qaeda facilitator. It is not clear to what extent the ideas for the attack such as the selection of the target etc came from Nafis and to what extent these were planted in his mind by the FBI operative in order to make out a case for arresting him.

5. No other arrests have been made. This would indicate that he was not part of any terrorist sleeper cell. The FBI has not produced any evidence so far to show that Nafis was already in touch with Al Qaeda when he was in Bangladesh or that he had travelled to Pakistan to meet jihadi terrorists for undergoing any training. This is not the way Al Qaeda operates----send a novice without any training to the US to procure explosives and blow up important buildings.

6. This appears to be one of those counter-terrorism sting operations being used by the FBI since 9/11 for preventing identified elements with a radical bent of mind from taking to terrorism. It is quite likely the FBI will keep him in custody for some months, enter into a plea bargain with him under which he will be made to confess before the court, get him sentenced and then deport him to Bangladesh on the ground that he co-operated with the FBI in the investigations.

7.Such counter-terrorism sting operations as a way of controlling terrorism are not encouraged by courts in other countries, but in the US convictions are awarded by courts in such operations despite their dubious legality.

8. One should not over-state the significance of this arrest. (19-10-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)