NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police and the FBI raided homes in the borough of Queens early on Monday as part of an investigation that has tracked a man suspected of sympathizing with al Qaeda, officials said.
NYPD and FBI officials provided few details, calling it part of an ongoing investigation by a joint terrorism task force, but members of U.S. Congress briefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation said there was no imminent danger.
Authorities launched the raids after a suspect they had under surveillance met with people in Queens, the ethnically diverse borough across the East River from Manhattan.
Neighbors at one apartment building, where the home of five Afghan men was searched, described an operation in which heavily armed FBI agents arrived in a phalanx of unmarked vehicles and stormed the building in the early morning hours.
“It was scary. I wasn’t going to stop the FBI and ask them what was going on,” said Melissa Khan, 28.
At another building, agents took away four Bosnians — a couple and their two adult children — from an apartment they have shared for three years, said John Choe, an aide to City Councilman John Liu and a candidate for the seat in Queens that Liu is vacating.
At least two of the Bosnians appeared to have returned home by Monday night. A man who answered the door there refused to speak to reporters. A neighbor who identified herself as Carol Lechner said she believed a son of the couple, a student at Queens College, remained in detention.
At the home of the five Afghanis, a man who identified himself as Amanulla Akvari, a 30-year-old taxi driver, said the FBI raided the apartment at 2:30 a.m. EDT.
He was brought in for questioning and released and said he had no idea why his home was targeted, adding that he believed one of his roommates was arrested.
“There was nothing imminent, and they (investigators) are very good now at tracking potentially dangerous actions and this was preventive,” said Charles Schumer, a U.S. Senator from New York who was among those briefed by FBI officials.
Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York who was also briefed, told ABC News: “He (the main suspect) was being watched and concern grew as he met with a group of individuals in Queens over the weekend.”
That led the FBI to obtain search warrants, ABC quoted King as saying.
“There is very good reason to believe that there is a connection to al Qaeda or to al Qaeda supports. ... (They) would not have moved as quickly as they did if they did not believe there was real potential,” King said.
The New York Times, citing an unnamed senior law enforcement official, said authorities had uncovered a small group who espoused a militant ideology aligned with al Qaeda.
Neither a specific plot nor a target of any planned attack had been detected, but their activities had aroused enough suspicion to obtain search warrants, the Times said.
New York City has been on high alert since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the recent anniversary has reminded many that the city was targeted in the suicide hijackings that destroyed the World Trade Center eight years ago.
The Twin Towers were also hit by a truck bomb attack in 1993 that killed six people and wounded more than 1,000.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Philip Barbara