A 22-year-old New York City man was arrested on June 6 after undercover agents learned he was plotting a terrorist attack on Times Square. Ashiqul Alam was taken into custody by federal authorities after he attempted to purchase two Glock 19 semi-automatic pistols with the serial numbers scratched off. Prosecutor David Kessler described Alam as having “taken specific steps to plan an attack,” including “research on Times Square and firearms, explosives.”
Agents described Alam as making “aspirational” threats. Alam was not charged with terrorism since law enforcement monitored him so closely he was never a true danger to the public.
Alam is originally from Bangladesh but moved to the United States with his parents when he was 12 and now has lawful permanent residency. Authorities arrested him at the apartment he shares with his parents in Jackson Heights, Queens. The Associated Press reported Alam is a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and works two jobs.
During his June 7 arraignment on one charge of attempting to purchase a firearm with a defaced serial number, Federal Court Judge Magistrate Cheryl Pollak rejected defense attorney James Darrow’s request for Alam to be released on $200,000 bond and home confinement. Instead, she ordered that Alam be “permanently detained,” calling him a danger to the community and a flight risk based on the criminal complaint presented by investigators. If convicted, Alam faces up to 10 years behind bars. Alam is due back in court on June 21.
Here’s what you need to know about Ashiqual Alam.
1. Undercover Agents Watched Alam for 10 Months
Alam was surveilled by the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) since last August when they arranged for him to make contact with an undercover agent about purchasing weapons and explosives.
Investigators said Alam complained about not having enough bomb-making materials and was considering an attack using a suicide bomber’s vest. “The more better the explosives, the more farther the shrapnel could go,” Alam explained to the undercover agent. He also wanted grenades, and said that they could each “take out at least eight people.”
“It’s horrible to think about the world and what it’s come to,” New York City resident Tyler Roberts told Alice Gainer from New York’s CBS2 after hearing about Alam’s planned attack. “It’s almost like every day that you hear something of this nature,” he shared.
2. Alam had Lasik Surgery to Improve his Image in the Media, Was Practicing at a Shooting Range and Surveilled Times Square
During his arraignment, the judge learned that Alam had Lasik Surgery in April so he wouldn’t look foolish during his rampage. “Let’s say we were in an attack, right, say that my glasses fall off. What if I accidentally shot you? You know what I mean. Imagine what the news channel will call me – “The Looney Tunes Terrorist” or “The Blind Terrorist.”
The Washington Times reported that last January, Alam used his smartphone to take surveillance footage of Times Square. He told the undercover officer that he was scouting out potential targets.
During the same month, Alam and the undercover agent went to a shooting range in Pennsylvania so he could sharpen his shooting skills. Alam discussed killing civilians, police officers, and how he wanted to “shoot down” homosexuals. He confided to the agent that the attack on Times Square would “make them legends.”
3. Alam Praised Other Terrorists
While authorities described Alam as a “lone wolf,” they stressed he admired terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, terrorist leaders such as Osama Bin Laden. The New York Times reported that Alam told the undercover agent “(Osama bin Laden) did what he is supposed to do,” and added, “Now it’s up to us.”
“The defendant made a number of statements of admiration for various terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham,” court documents also revealed.
Alam told the undercover agent that he wanted to see the “flag of Islam on the Twin Towers or Empire State Building”
4. Neighbors Described Alam as Quiet
According to officials, this is the apartment building in #Queens where the #TimesSquare terror suspect lives. Neighbors say the 22-year old, Ashiqul Alam, has lived here with his parents for years now. pic.twitter.com/awepVGKlU9— Nina Kapur (@ninakapur1) June 7, 2019
According to the New York Post, neighbors were shocked to discover that Alam had been attempting to hatch a terror plot. “He is respectful, quiet. The family is Muslim, ” next-door neighbor Shamsi Ara said. “We are shocked, we didn’t think it can be our neighbors,” Ara added. According to Ara, the family moved to the quiet Jackson Heights neighborhood about five or six years ago.
Several neighbors learned about Alam’s terrorist leanings as they watched his arrest unfold. Jamal Uddin witnessed the raid on the Alam family apartment. “The FBI came at 2 p.m. and they left at 9 p.m. They were inside and outside,” Uddin said “I saw them take the laptop and computer and lots of things in boxes. I saw the desktop and the hard drive.”
Mohammed Islam witnessed when federal agents arrested Alam. According to Islam, about 10 to 15 members of law enforcement attempted to gain entrance into the Alam family’s fifth-floor apartment. When Alam wouldn’t open the door, they broke into the dwelling.
5. There Have Been Several Plots Targeting Times Square
Several terrorist plots have unsuccessfully targeted Times Square. With so many threats, the area is now heavily guarded by police and protected with metal and concrete barriers.
In 2017, Bangladeshi immigrant Akayed Ullah detonated a bomb in a pedestrian underpass that connects Times Square’s subway station to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Ullah was seriously hurt and several bystanders were injured by shrapnel.
That same year, Richard Rojas drove his car into a group of people killing one and injuring 20 others. It was later discovered that Rojas suffered from mental illness and had been on drugs.
In 2010, U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a car bomb in the popular tourist destination but his plan was foiled when two bystanders alerted authorities when they saw the car starting to fill with smoke. Shahzad, who had received explosives training in Pakistan, was sentenced to life in prison.