Elizabeth Williams, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis was a terrible student in his native Bangladesh, and his middle-class parents say he persuaded them to send him off to study in the U.S. as a way of improving his job prospects.
At the Missouri college where he enrolled, one classmate said Nafis often remarked that true Muslims don't believe in violence — an image that seemed startlingly at odds with Nafis' arrest in an FBI sting this week on charges of trying to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York with what he thought was a 1,000-pound car bomb.
"I can't imagine being more shocked about somebody doing something like this," said Jim Dow, a 54-year-old Army veteran who rode home from class with Nafis twice a week. "I didn't just meet this kid a couple of times. We talked quite a bit, sir. And this doesn't seem to be in character."
Federal investigators, often accused by defense attorneys of entrapping and leading would-be terrorists along, said the 21-year-old Nafis made the first move over the summer, reaching out for accomplices and eventually contacting a government informant, who then went to federal authorities.
They said he also selected his target, drove the van loaded with dummy explosives up to the door of the bank, and tried to set off the bomb from a hotel room using a cellphone he thought had been rigged as a detonator.
During the investigation, he and the informant corresponded via Facebook and other social media, talked on the phone and met in hotel rooms, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Nafis spoke of his admiration for Osama bin Laden, talked of writing an article about his plot for an al-Qaida-affiliated magazine, and said he would be willing to be a martyr but preferred to go home to his family after carrying out the attack, authorities said. And he also talked about wanting to kill President Barack Obama and bomb the New York Stock Exchange, a law enforcement official said.
Investigators said in court papers that he came to the U.S. bent on jihad and worked out the specifics of a plot when he arrived. While Nafis believed he had the blessing of al-Qaida and was acting on behalf of the terrorist group, he has no known ties, according to federal officials.
Nafis, who at the time of his arrest Wednesday was working as a busboy at a restaurant in Manhattan, was jailed without bail. His attorney has not commented on the case, but in other instances where undercover agents and sting operations were used, lawyers have argued entrapment.
Investigators would not say exactly how he initially contacted the government informant.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whose department had a role in the arrest as a member of a joint federal-state terrorism task force, said the entrapment argument rarely prevails.
"You have to be otherwise not disposed to do a crime," Kelly said. "And if it's your intent to do a crime, and somehow there are means made available, then generally speaking, the entrapment defense does not succeed."
Nafis' family in Dhaka, Bangladesh, denied he could have been involved — he was incapable of such actions and came to America to study, not to carry out an attack, his parents said. His father, a banker, said Nafis was so timid he couldn't venture out onto the roof alone.
"My son couldn't have done it," Quazi Ahsanullah said, weeping.
"He is very gentle and devoted to his studies," he said, pointing to Nafis' time studying at the private North South University in Dhaka.
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