This morning we received an email from NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne directing us to a transcript of a pretrial detention hearing for Raees Alam Qazi, the 20-year-old Florida resident who allegedly traveled to New York City over Thanksgiving and biked around Manhattan surveying targets for terrorism. The transcript was supposed to prove that Qazi "fully intended to blow himself up and dozens of other people" with a remote bomb "on behalf of Al-Qaeda," but a closer look shows that Qazi failed as so many 22-year-old aspiring fashion bloggers and PR interns have: he just couldn't hack it in New York City.
The first arresting detail of the hearing makes you wonder just how serious Qazi was about actually seeing this thing through. Qazi lives with his 30-year-old brother Sheheryar Alam Qazi and his wife in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. While the younger brother cobbled together odd jobs, like a maintenance gig at a mosque and selling used bikes on Craigslist, the older brother was the breadwinner, driving a cab to support everyone.
The government attorney Karen Gilbert, said this arrangement didn't sit well with Sheheryar's wife, according to recordings of their domestic existence obtained by the FBI:
His brother, the co-defendant, was supporting him in doing this; paying the bills, providing computers, providing cell phones and things like that for his use.
The investigation continued to an additional recording later in the month of August where the co-defendant was having a conversation with his wife. They were complaining about bills not being paid, and the wife said to her husband, the co-defendant in this case, in summary, "It is fine if he is going to do Jihad, but for now he has to work and help out with the expenses."
You can almost see Chuck Lorre's eyes light up as he strides into the CBS pitch meeting for Honey, No Jihad Tonight. The government's attorney recounts a telephone call made by Qazi to his brother after spending three rough days in New York City, sleeping in restaurants and on public transit:
Surveillance picks him up in New York, and then a call is recorded that indicates on the 27th of November that this defendant is returning to Miami; that he traveled to New York, and his brother asks him when he says, "We were worried about you," this defendant says, "I was with my friend, right. I went to do the task, if you understand what I am saying." His brother asked, "Did you achieve anything?" This defendant says, "No. I haven't achieved anything yet because like"—there is something unintelligible—"half a week. I haven't been assigned a task, and when I do get one, it is too expensive. I don't that have that much time." Excuse me. "I don't have that much money with me." They begin to talk about the brother basically convinces him, "Come back to Miami. Continue to practice. We can raise money and then you can return to carry out your attack."
Qazi's government-appointed defense attorney, Daniel Ecarius, would later reveal through a cross-examination of an FBI witness that Qazi didn't have a bank account, knew no one in New York City, and virtually had no plan other than to travel to New York and find a job. He didn't even contact the cheap apartment broker the barista tipped him off to, or apply for a job as a barback at that bar in the East Village where the waitress totally flirted with him.
The government asserts that through a signed statement, Qazi's overall plan was to find a job so that he'd eventually be able to afford bomb-making materials and a place to construct them, but that's assuming he'd never open a beer in The Palms' dumpster pools or bike up to the Cloisters and eat bread and cheese on a blanket next to the Hudson or find out how much goddamn money he could make selling bicycles at the Brooklyn Flea. And ask any New Yorker if their five-year, one-year, six-month, fifteen-minute "plan" was actually realized.
More evidence of Qazi's naivete:
He also told agents that he had left a letter for his family explaining his absence before he went, and during the search executed of the family apartment where he resided, they did, in fact, find a letter where this brother basically tells the brother, "Take care of this. Give this back." The importance or the significant part of this evidence letter is he says in Arabic, the translation is, "May God reward you or bless you," or what is commonly used is, "Thank you," and it reads, "For everything. I cannot pay you back for the help you have given me, but Allah can. In Shahla. God willing." He then writes down at the bottom in parenthesis, "Don't panic. Just keep it cool, especially when someone asks."(Emphasis ours)
Did this would-be terrorist realize that he was writing a piece of evidence and not an inner monologue? Ecarius, Qazi's defense attorney, notes that his client doesn't have a prior criminal record, has lived in Florida since he was eight, and previously visited Pakistan to see family members. The government seized peroxide and Christmas lights from Qazi's brother's home, claiming that Qazi was trying to construct a bomb based on the plans he saw in Al-Qaeda's Inspire magazine, but that the bomb "didn't work."
Ecarius asks the FBI agent three times if the government knew of any specific attack Qazi was planning in New York City, and receives this as an answer:
Q. Is there any surveillance or anything that supports that what he was doing in New York, that he was looking for a job with a purpose of being able to buy explosives? A. He told us in his post 302 arrest statement that he went up there to obtain a job, and the proceeds from the job he said were going to support him and also go towards acquiring things to build an explosive. Q. Is there any investigation that the government has of him while he was in New York of his activities when he was in New York? Any information related to that, other than what he told you? A. I am sorry. What again? Q. Are you aware of any plans for any specific attack in New York City? A. Mr. Qazi said in his post arrest statement that he was riding around on his bike in New York looking for targets, but he never specifically picked one.
In his email, Browne notes that "This is the 16th known terrorist plot against New York City since 9/11," but it's worth remembering how many of those plots were hatched with plenty of help from dubious informants. In Qazi's case, there were two, and their relationship to the would-be terrorist is vague. See for yourself on page 23 of the transcript.