By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York man was arrested after allegedly discussing acquiring grenades and detonating them in Times Square, one of midtown Manhattan’s most crowded crossroads, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.
Ashiqul Alam, 22, from Jackson Heights in the city’s Queens borough, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, the person said. He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn later on Friday, but it was unclear what charges he would face.
The New York Police Department declined to comment on the matter and referred inquires to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also declined to comment.
The alleged plot was uncovered after police and federal authorities learned the man had been inquiring about buying grenades and using them in Times Square, one of the most visited destinations in the United States, the New York Daily News reported.
Authorities do not believe the man had links to a wider plot involving other people, the Daily News said, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.
The man had been under surveillance for some time and authorities had been closely monitoring him, NBC News reported, citing unnamed officials.
He talked about wanting to make a suicide bomb vest as well as using explosives, and eventually settled on a shooting attack in Times Square, NBC reported.
The man had discussed potential attacks on politicians in New York and Washington before settling on a plot to attack Times Square, NBC said.
Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of FBI agents and New York police detectives, made the arrest. The task force began tracking him and eventually took him into custody, according to media reports said.
With its millions of visitors each year, Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, has been targeted by at least two bombers in recent years, despite its heavily-fortified police presence.
On May 1, 2010, police thwarted an attempted car bomb in Times Square, defusing a crude device made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.
A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to the plot, admitting that he had received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that the group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had funded the plot. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In December 2017, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel near Times Square. The man, Akayed Ullah, was convicted of six criminal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and support of a terrorist organization.
On Friday morning, it was business as usual in Times Square, with a bustle of people on their way to work and tourists beginning to stream into the area.
Kate Fan, a 28-year-old charity worker visiting from her home in Guangzhou, China, said that she heard about the incident but still felt safe.
“We hear a lot of stories about New York being unsafe, but we feel like people sometimes exaggerate safety issues,” she said.
(Writing and additional reporting by Meredith Mazzilli, Peter Szekely and Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Zieminski)