A Pakistani-born Virginia man was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday on suspicion of taking part in what he thought to be plans for a simultaneous al Qaeda attack next year on multiple Northern Virginia Metrorail stations, the Justice Department said.
Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn, was taken into custody on charges he attempted to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collected information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempted to provide material support to terrorists.
Officials said that at no time was the public in danger during what appears to be a sting operation and that the FBI was aware of Mr. Ahmed’s activities and closely monitored them until his arrest.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. Mr. Ahmed was scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s chilling that a man from Ashburn is accused of casing rail stations with the goal of killing as many Metro riders as possible through simultaneous bomb attacks,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Today’s arrest highlights the terrorism threat that exists in Northern Virginia and our ability to find those seeking to harm U.S. citizens and neutralize them before they can act,” he said.
In a nine-page indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, prosecutors say Mr. Ahmed told someone he thought was an al Qaeda member that he planned to complete the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in November and that he “might be ready to travel overseas to conduct jihad in January 2011.”
Authorities say that on April 18, Mr. Ahmed drove to a hotel in the Dulles area of Northern Virginia, met with someone he thought was an al Qaeda courier and provided the person with a list of locations for future meetings.
On May 15, at a hotel in Herndon, authorities say, Mr. Ahmed agreed to watch and photograph a Washington, D.C., hotel and the Arlington Cemetery Metrorail station to obtain information about their security and busiest periods.
According to the indictment, Mr. Ahmed participated in surveillance and recorded video images of Metrorail stations in Arlington on four occasions in May and in July.
He met the person he thought was an al Qaeda member at a hotel room in Sterling, Va., on July 19 and delivered a memory stick with videos of the station. During the meeting, he also agreed to conduct similar surveillance to assess the security and peak travel times at the Court House and Pentagon City stations, also located in Arlington.
The indictment says he told the person he thought to be his contact that he planned to raise $10,000 to support their “brothers overseas,” even if he had to deceive people about the true purpose of the money. Mr. Ahmed told the contact he would send the money in $1,000 increments “in order to not raise any red flags.”
The indictment says Mr. Ahmed again met his contact on Sept. 28 in a Herndon hotel room, where he delivered a thumb drive with images he had collected of the two Metro stations in the course of his observations. It further says Mr. Ahmed told the contact he thought that “between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. would be the best time to stage an attack to cause the most casualties.”
He also provided diagrams he drew of the Arlington Cemetery, Court House and Pentagon City Metrorail stations and made suggestions as to where explosives should be placed on trains “to kill the most people in simultaneous attacks planned for 2011.”
The indictment says Mr. Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen, told his contact he was available to meet with a courier sometime between Wednesday and Friday to deliver the results of surveillance he conducted on Oct. 21 at the Crystal City Metro station.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington field office Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes 35 agencies in the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.