FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) - A Pakistani-born man plotted to detonate a bomb in New York City to avenge the deaths of people killed by drone attacks in Afghanistan but failed to raise enough money to carry out the scheme, a federal prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Raees Alam Qazi, 20, was arrested along with his brother, Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 30, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on November 29. The brothers, both naturalized U.S. citizens, are charged with providing support to terrorists and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday, prosecutors offered the first details about the alleged plot during a bail hearing in federal court.
Raees Alam Qazi traveled to New York from his home in Florida on November 23 with the hope of finding a job to make enough money to build an explosive, according to testimony from FBI Special Agent Kristine Holden.
The younger Qazi told investigators after his arrest that he rode around New York on a bike looking for targets but never chose one and returned home four days later after running out of money, prosecutor Karen Gilbert said.
Qazi, who spent his time in New York sleeping in a restaurant, a mosque and on public transportation, was arrested two days after he traveled home on a Greyhound bus.
His brother, a taxi cab driver, was described by prosecutors and investigators as aware of the possible attack, but they said Raees Alam Qazi intended to carry it out.
“The brother was supporting him, paying bills, providing a computer and a cellphone,” Gilbert said.
The case against the brothers is based in part on evidence gathered during surveillance of their cellular telephones, according to court documents.
During recorded calls, Raees Alam Qazi asked about the size of crowds at Times Square, Wall Street and at some New York City theaters, Holden said.
In another conversation, Sheheryar Qazi described his brother as a “lone wolf, like the Times Square bomber,” referring to Faisal Shahzad, who pleaded guilty two years ago to trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square.
The elder Qazi was also recorded saying that his brother “wasn’t going to be in this world long.”
In a search of a house where Raees Alam Qazi was living, authorities say they recovered a laptop computer that showed he had researched ingredients to make a shoe bomb. They also found disassembled remote-control car parts, which Gilbert said were possibly intended to make a remote-control detonator.
Daniel Ecarius, an attorney for Raees Alam Qazi, sought to have him released on bail on Tuesday, saying his client had no criminal history. He took issue with some of the translation of the taped telephone calls, which were recorded in Pashto, a language spoken in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.
However, a federal judge ordered Raees Alam Qazi held without bail, saying he was a flight risk.
If convicted, both of the men could face a sentence of 15 years in prison on the charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
The charge of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction carries a potential maximum life sentence.
Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Steve Orlofsky