FBI Investigators leave the home of Farooque Ahmed in Ashburn, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 27. 2010. Ahmed, a naturalized citizen born in Pakistan was arrested Wednesday and charged with trying to help people posing as al-Qaida operatives planning to bomb subway stations around the nation's capital, the FBI said. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Washington (AP) - A naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan was arrested Wednesday and charged with trying to help people posing as al-Qaida operatives planning to bomb subway stations around the nation's capital, the FBI said.
The FBI said the public was never in danger because its agents were aware of the man's activities before the alleged planning took place and monitored him throughout. The people the defendant believed were al-Qaida operatives in fact "worked on behalf of the government in this matter," according to a federal law enforcement official who requested anonymity to discuss details of the case.
During the FBI sting operation that began as early as last April, defendant Farooque Ahmed videotaped subway stations in suburban northern Virginia and suggested using bombs in rolling suitcases rather than backpacks to kill as many people as possible, the government said.
Ahmed, 34, had been indicted under seal Tuesday in Alexandria, Va., and the indictment was released Wednesday. He was charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempting to provide material support to carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties at Washington-area subway stations. Ahmed lives in Ashburn, Va., outside Washington.
During a brief court appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Ahmed did not enter a plea and was held without bond. He told U.S. Magistrate Judge John Anderson he couldn't afford to hire a lawyer. Prosecutors said they planned to use some classified information as evidence in the case.
Federal investigators said that, starting in April, Ahmed met several times with people he believed were al-Qaida operatives. During one of those meetings, investigators said, he agreed to watch and photograph a hotel in Washington and a subway station in Arlington, Va. He also was accused of participating in surveillance, recording video of a subway station in Arlington on four different occasions, and agreeing to get security information about two stations.
According to the indictment:
-Ahmed took video of four northern Virginia subway stations - Arlington Cemetery, Courthouse, Pentagon City and Crystal City, which is near the Pentagon - and monitored the security at a hotel in the District of Columbia. In a series of meetings at hotels in northern Virginia, Ahmed provided these videos to someone he believed was part of a terrorist organization and also said he wanted to donate $10,000 help the overseas fight and collect donations in a way that would not raise red flags.
-In a Sept. 28 meeting in a Herndon, Va. hotel, Ahmed also suggested that terror operatives use rolling suitcases to blow up the subway instead of backpacks. During that same meeting Ahmed said he wanted to kill as many military personnel as possible and suggested an additional attack on a Crystal City subway station.
The indictment alleges he also gave diagrams of the Arlington subway stations to a person he thought was part of al-Qaida and gave suggestions about where to put explosives on trains to kill the most people in simultaneous attacks planned for 2011.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was aware of the investigation before Ahmed was arrested. Gibbs also offered assurances that the public was never in danger.
In a statement, David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said the case "demonstrates how the government can neutralize such threats before they come to fruition."
"Farooque Ahmed is accused of plotting with individuals he believed were terrorists to bomb our transit system, but a coordinated law enforcement and intelligence effort was able to thwart his plans," Kris said.
Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the FBI Washington field office, declined to comment on how authorities learned about Ahmed.
Ahmed faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
Associated Press writer Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.