Three men plotted to terrorize New York City with targeted bombings and shootings in heavily populated areas, including the subway and Times Square, on behalf of the Islamic State, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy and Talha Haroon, both 19, and Russell Salic, 37, planned to carry out their deadly plot in the summer of 2016, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan, but were thwarted by authorities through an undercover operation before they could inflict harm, according to the office of acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan.
During electronic communications with an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a supporter of Islamic State, El Bahnasawy and Haroon declared their allegiance to ISIS, prosecutors said, and expressed interest in a Paris-style attack in New York City.
"These Americans need an attack," El Bahnasawy had told the undercover officer, according to a criminal complaint. He also said he aspired to "create the next 9/11," the complaint said.
Haroon likewise told the officer that Time Square was "a perfect spot to hit them," prosecutors said.
In May 2016, El Bahnasawy sent multiple images of the subway system to the undercover officer that identified which train lines would be targeted with bombs as part of the attacks, according to the criminal complaint. Haroon also expressed to the officer that the subway was the "perfect" target to shoot people, including "women or kids," the complaint said.
In addition to the bombings, the group planned to shoot civilians at concert venues in the city, Kim's office said.
El Bahnasawy bought bomb-making materials, including about 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, and helped secure a cabin from which to stage the attacks, according to prosecutors. He planned to use the cabin, which was driving distance from New York City, as a place to build the explosives and "practice shooting," they said.
Haroon planned to travel from Pakistan to help El Bahnasawy carry out attacks, and Salic helped fund the plot, according to prosecutors.
Salic, who maintained a pro-Islamic State social media presence, told the undercover officer that he had been communicating with El Bahnasawy, and sent the officer about $423 from the Philippines to help pay for the attacks, according to prosecutors.
Federal terrorism charges, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and to support a terrorist organization, were unsealed against the men on Friday.
El Bahnasawy, a Canadien citizen, has been in U.S. custody since May 2016, when he was arrested in New Jersey. He pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in October 2016 and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12, 2017, prosecutors said.
Haroon was arrested in Pakistan, where he lives, in September 2016, and Salic, of the Philippines, was arrested in that country in April, according to Kim's office. Both are expected to be extradited to the U.S. to face the charges.
Lawyers for the three men could not immediately be identified. If convicted of the most serious charges, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The announcement comes just days after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The suspected gunman, however, has no known ties to international terrorism, authorities said.