Two men accused of NYC bomb plot

Subway station targeted but explosives were not obtained, officials say

August 29, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - Two New York City men were charged yesterday in federal District Court in Brooklyn with conspiring to detonate a bomb in the subway station at Herald Square, law enforcement officials said.

The men have been identified as Shahawar Matin Siraj of Queens and James Elshafay of Staten Island.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and other officials emphasized yesterday that the suspects had obtained no explosives and had set no specific time for an attack, and that it was unclear how far their plans had progressed.

A news release announcing the arrests yesterday said the alleged plot was not connected to earlier intelligence indicating that the al-Qaida network was seeking to attack financial targets in New York before the presidential election.

The officials also said they did not believe the plot was timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, which opens tomorrow at Madison Square Garden, a block from Herald Square.

"There was no timeline, they had no explosives, they were under surveillance," Kelly said.

The men twice conducted surveillance of the Herald Square subway station, drawing diagrams of the entrances and exits, the officials said.

They made contact with a police informant last September, and about seven months later, Siraj began telling the informant that he planned to use explosives, the officials said.

In tape-recorded conversations, Siraj talked about setting off bombs in the New York City area, the officials said. Elshafay talked to the informant about blowing up the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and had drawn a map of the bridges and police precincts in Staten Island, the officials said.

"This is an investigation started about a year ago. This was managed by our intelligence division," Kelly said. "Siraj had been making increasingly militant statements about damaging public facilities, specifically transportation facilities."

Kelly said "backpacks were obtained with the intent of putting explosives" in them. He said other subway stations were also discussed as possible targets.

The two men were arrested Friday and arraigned yesterday morning on federal charges in connection with the bomb plot before Kiyo Matsumoto, a federal magistrate judge, who ordered them detained.

The arrests come at a time of heightened concerns about terrorism across the city because of the Republican convention.

Although one police official said the men were not linked to any known terrorist group, he said they were representative of young Muslim men in the city who had become more radical after hearing sermons on jihad.

The official said such men are as capable of violence as more organized terrorist groups.

"What we have to be looking for is an organized attack like 9/11, but also disenfranchised people who are equally capable of committing violent acts," the officials said.

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