Two Pakistani-born brothers pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of plotting a terrorist explosives attack against New York City landmarks and assaulting two deputy U.S. marshals while in custody.
The pleas were entered Thursday in Miami federal court by 32-year-old Sheheryar Alam Qazi and Raees Alam Qazi, 22. The pair has been in federal custody since late November 2012 after Raees Qazi returned from New York by bus following an aborted attack, possibly to include bombs made of common chemicals and Christmas tree lights.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gilbert, reading from a factual statement signed by both brothers, said Raees Qazi had unsuccessfully attempted to enter Afghanistan to join Islamic extremists while visiting Pakistan in 2011. After that, she said, he decided to become a "lone wolf" who would find a way to attack the U.S. from within.
In one meeting with a confidential FBI informant, Gilbert said, Raees Qazi said he had been in contact with al-Qaida operatives and added, "the leaders know what they are talking about so when they call on Muslims in the West to stay in the West, there's a reason for that."
Sheheryar Qazi's role was to provide financial and emotional support for his younger brother's quest to launch a terror attack, Gilbert said.
"Although Sheheryar Alam Qazi likely did not know all the details of the planned operation, he encouraged his brother to succeed in his task," she said.
Both brothers were avid followers of lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical Muslim cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, according to the statement. Raees Qazi also admitted logging on to Internet sites linked to al-Qaida to research bomb-making techniques and other ways of launching attacks with common items.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom set sentencing June 5 for both men. Raees Qazi faces up to 35 years in prison, while Sheheryar Qazi faces a 20-year maximum. Raees Qazi's maximum sentence is higher because he pleaded guilty to an additional material support count.
Key evidence includes FBI wiretap and other communications intercepts. Earlier in the case, defense lawyers sought access to information about the brothers collected under the once-secret National Security Agency surveillance program revealed by one of its contractors, Edward Snowden. Prosecutors eventually agreed they had a duty to turn over the information, but did not do so because they decided not to use it as evidence.
As the case was progressing, on April 6, 2014, the brothers used a ruse to distract the two deputy marshals while being escorted in the Miami court complex. The marshals suffered bruises and other injuries in the attack, during which the brothers yelled "Allahu Akbar," which is Arabic for "God is Great."