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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Arrest in FBI Terror Sting

FBI investigators at the home of the sting's target on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON—Federal agents on Wednesday arrested a Pakistani-American man in a sting operation, accusing him of helping scout out potential targets for bombings of Washington's Metrorail subway system.

The suspect, 34-year-old Farooque Ahmed, of Ashburn, Va., believed he was part of an al Qaeda bombing conspiracy, but the purported plot was actually set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a federal grand-jury indictment in Virginia's eastern district.

The indictment says that from April to October, Mr. Ahmed tried to aid what he believed was a plot to carry out multiple bombings at Washington-area subway stations. He recorded video of stations in Arlington, Va., on four occasions and drew diagrams of three stations in Arlington, according to the indictment.

He provided suggestions for where to place bombs in attacks that were supposedly to be carried out next year, it says. Mr. Ahmed is charged with attempting to provide support to terrorists and assisting in planning a terrorist attack on transit.

The public was never in any danger, officials said.

At a hearing Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., the bearded suspect politely told a judge he understood the charges. Prosecutors told the judge they expected to use classified evidence in the case and asked that he appoint a lawyer with security clearance for Mr. Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed, who is being held pending a Friday detention hearing, didn't comment on the substance of the charges and said he couldn't afford a lawyer.

A profile on the LinkedIn professional networking site shows a Farooque Ahmed working as a network engineer at a U.S. unit of Swedish telecommunications company Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson. A spokeswoman for Ericsson said Mr. Ahmed worked as a contract employee assigned to clients in the area.

The indictment doesn't say how U.S. officials became interested in Mr. Ahmed. The FBI and other agencies are known to monitor Internet forums that attract jihadists and other Islamist sympathizers in the U.S. and around the world. U.S. officials said Mr. Ahmed didn't participate in overseas terror training.

In April, FBI agents set up a meeting with Mr. Ahmed under the guise of making contact with a terror operative, according to the indictment. During a meeting in May, the indictment says, Mr. Ahmed told the purported terrorist contact he was planning to attend the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in November and then "might be ready to travel overseas to conduct jihad in January 2011."

In July and August, Mr. Ahmed conducted surveillance and recorded videotape of the Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon City and Court House Metro stations in Washington's Virginia suburbs, the indictment says. He also did surveillance of a hotel in Washington, to study security and determine the busiest periods at the locations, the indictment says.

At a meeting in September, prosecutors allege, Mr. Ahmed told the contact an attack could cause the most casualties between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. He suggested placing bombs on trains at the three stations he had cased and proposed using rolling suitcases in simultaneous attacks in 2011, the indictment says. The suburban stations Mr. Ahmed allegedly scouted are often crowded with contractors and military personnel who work in offices affiliated with the nearby Pentagon.

The case is the latest of several involving FBI sting operations luring alleged extremists in the U.S. to carry out terrorist plots, in which FBI informants or undercover agents control the plot.

Last month, prosecutors charged a Chicago man who tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb on a crowded street in the city's Wrigleyville neighborhood. The bomb was a dud, provided by the FBI, which had set up the sting.

A similar operation led to a 24-year prison sentence this month for a Jordanian man who thought he was carrying out a truck bombing of a Dallas skyscraper last year. The FBI had orchestrated the plot, providing a fake bomb.

In recent years, the FBI has refined its use of the sting as a way to stop terror plots before they can be carried out. In some cases, defense lawyers have accused investigators of entrapment, in which law enforcement induces people to commit a crime they otherwise wouldn't commit. The FBI and prosecutors argue that the cases are brought only against suspects who have given investigators cause to believe they are inclined to support terrorism. Juries and judges mostly have sided with the government in cases brought in recent years.

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