A 20-year-old college student from Queens was arrested on Saturday by the FBI for allegedly scouting possible targets for an ISIS-inspired attack, law enforcement officials said.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Munther Omar Saleh with material support for terrorism. The FBI said he boasted he wanted to carry out a terror operation to an undercover informant.
A second man believed to be 17 years old was also questioned by authorities, according to federal court papers. Investigators said Saleh was researching how to make explosives and has watched ISIS videos online.
Saleh is a U.S. citizen who enrolled in a Queens aeronautical college and was allegedly trying to learn how to build a bomb.
Saleh allegedly posted jihadist writings online including claiming al-Qaida “could be getting too moderate” while also voicing support for the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the beheadings of hostages and establishing Sharia law in New York.
Investigators also said he voiced support for the Texas attack on a cartoon drawing contest of the prophet Mohammed.
In March, Saleh was twice spotted on the George Washington Bridge by Port Authority Police, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force was notified of the suspicious activity.
JTTF searched his computer and discovered pro-ISIS translations, according to the criminal complaint.
In an online communication with a JTTF source, Saleh allegedly boasted, "Well, I am in NY trying to do an op." Investigators said he was also doing research on how to build a pressure cooker bomb similar to one used in the Boston Marathon bombings. The FBI said he also began shopping for components like a watch that could be used as a timing device for an explosive.
Neighbors at his family's home in Flushing were stunned to hear the allegations.
"Oh, my God. I don't know, that's a surprise for me," said Norma Morales. "I feel so bad about the family. They are very nice people."
Saleh's father is a respected manager at a grocery store across the street, neighbors said. He didn't want to speak to NBC 4 New York at his home Tuesday night other to say his son is innocent.
Luna Zhu recalled the FBI coming to the home a few days ago. She didn't seem to know much about Saleh.
"Usually he just walk out, walk in, just hold the door. That's it," she said.
An unnamed co-conspirator allegedly exchanged ISIS videos from Syria with Saleh. Officials have not yet named that alleged co-conspirator.
On Saturday along the Whitestone Expressway, officials said Saleh noticed he and his co-conspirator were being followed, and they exited their green Jeep to approach the law enforcement vehicle. Police discovered a tactical folding knife on the co-conspirator when they were arrested, according to court papers.
The investigation is ongoing and spokesmen for the FBI and the US attorney’s office declined to comment beyond what is in the criminal complaint.
-- NBC News' Pete Williams and Robert Windrem contributed to this report