3 ISIS Followers Arrested for Plot to Bomb Times Square and NYC Subway

October 7, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2018

Three men allegedly planned multiple terrorist attacks on New York City, including bombing Times Square, the subway, and shooting people at concert venues. They pledged allegiance to ISIS, according to the Justice Department.

The three were Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, 19, a Canadian citizen; Talha Haroon, 19, a U.S. citizen residing in Pakistan; and Russell Salic, 37, a Philippine citizen.

They allegedly planned for the attacks to occur during the summer of 2016. But the FBI, NYPD, and other law enforcement agencies thwarted the plot thanks to an undercover FBI agent posing as an ISIS supporter, ready to conduct the attacks with them.

All three men have been arrested. El Bahnasawy already pleaded guilty to seven charges. Haroon was arrested in Pakistan and is pending extradition. Salic was arrested in the Philippines and is also awaiting extradition.

Based on the documents released by the Justice Department, the plot evolved as follows:

Around April 30, 2016, the undercover agent got in contact with El Bahnasawy through online messaging apps.

El Bahnasawy told the agent he was in contact with the ISIS terrorist group and wanted to bomb and shoot as many people in New York City as possible, all in ISIS’s name.

“[t]hese Americans need an attack, and we can’t delay or cancel akhi [brother].. I wanna create the next 9/11 but if I don’t, id [sic] rather do something than nothing at all,” El Bahnasawy wrote to the agent around May 5.

El Bahnasawy also sought to have the attacks officially sanctioned and funded by ISIS.

Around May 6, he said his contact in Khorasan Province (an ISIS affiliate in Pakistan) “wants to know what weapons we have, what our general targets are, how many people are trained, how long were [sic] gonna train for, exact number of people … So they need to know everything before giving us finances or helping.”

Around April 30, El Bahnasawy described his plan for bombing the Subway and around May 1 provided a map illustrating the attack plan.

A map of the New York City Subway with marks allegedly illustrating a bombing plot. (The U.S. Department of Justice)

“The 2 subway routes we will blow up will be the purple one [7 line], and green one [4, 5, 6 line].. Because these 2 will make it easier for us to get to the vehicle,” he said.

Around May 1, El Bahnasawy connected the agent with Haroon. Haroon described himself as an ISIS member known to the terrorist group’s “higher-ups.” He was apparently eager to participate in the attacks.

“[M]ay Allah grant us success in this opp [operation],” he wrote to the agent. “I’m mad excited. And may Allah cause great destruction to the filthy kuffars [non-Muslims] by our hands.”

Haroon was also enthusiastic about targeting the Subway.

“I think the subway is perfect. One can get in the train and on the way to the other station we kill all in the train regardless of who and remember do not stop shooting even if u see women or kids. No mercy is rule one,” he wrote to the agent.

He also said, “Then once we reach the second station get off and start killing on the station as well and if we get trapped we let the [explosive] vests go off. But we need to make sure to do it on a very busy day.”

El Bahnasawy also planned to target concerts. Around May 6, he told the agent he had researched concerts in the New York City area looking for one in a “closed area” and “far away from cops.”

Around May 6, he also told the agent about a plan to bomb Times Square, though he seemed to have some misgivings about it not being destructive enough.

“Akhi [brother] let’s just shoot up concerts cuz [sic] they kill a lot of people. Times square is also good but sometimes there isn’t a lot of people. Actually never mind there are a lot.. Car bomb there is good,” El Bahnasawy wrote to the agent around May 12.

Around May 8, El Bahnasawy introduced the agent to Salic, describing him as an ISIS supporter who had sent money to ISIS causes before and was the best candidate to financially support the attacks on NYC.

Salic sent the agent some $424 and said he may send more in the future.

Salic also expressed he wanted to join ISIS in Syria because the more he stayed in his place the more he got “involved in kuffar [non-Muslim] deeds.”

He also said that sending money from the Philippines was safe, because he believed the country wasn’t as strict on terrorism like Australia or the United Kingdom.

“Terrorists from all over the world usually come here as a breeding ground for terrorists … hahahaha,” he said. “Your dua [prayer] is much needed for Musa Cerantonio [alleged ISIS promoter] as he’s been arrested in Australia. But no worry here in Philippines.. They dont care bout [sic] IS[IS]..loll Only in west.”

Around May 7, El Bahnasawy bought some 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, a primary ingredient in TATP (triacetone triperoxide), an explosive commonly used in improvised bombs. He had the chemical shipped to the agent in the United States.

A shipment of hydrogen peroxide allegedly intended for production of improvised explosives. (The U.S. Department of Justice)
A shipment of hydrogen peroxide allegedly intended for production of improvised explosives. (The U.S. Department of Justice)

Around May 16-18, the agent received about seven more packages from El Bahnasawy with materials for improvised explosives, like Christmas lights, batteries, thermometers, and aluminum foil.

El Bahnasawy told the agent he planned to come to the United States on May 21, disguising his travel as a family trip. “I will be masked behind my parents back,” he wrote.

He instructed the agent to rent a cabin close to the city where they could make the explosives and perhaps practice shooting.

El Bahnasawy was arrested on May 21, 2016 in New Jersey. On Oct. 13, 2016, he pleaded guilty to seven charges, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, and conspiracy to bomb a place of public use and public transportation system. All of these three charges carry the maximum penalty of life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12.

Haroon was arrested in Sept. 2016 in Pakistan and Salic was arrested in April 2017 in the Philippines. Proceedings for their extradition to the United States were pending as of Oct. 6. Both face multiple charges, including the three charges mentioned above.

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