New York bomb plot case: How surveillance led to arrests

An FBI investigation uncovered efforts to set off an explosive device at a New York City landmark on behalf of the Islamic State, according to court documents. 

After four months of surveillance, federal agents have arrested two college students who they say were plotting with others to detonate an explosive device at a New York City landmark in support of the terror group Islamic State.

Fareed Mumuni was arrested at his Staten Island home Wednesday morning after he attempted to stab a federal agent with a large kitchen knife.

“Mumuni repeatedly attempted to plunge the kitchen knife into the torso of an FBI special agent and reached out with his hand in the vicinity of a rifle used by another member of law enforcement,” according to an affidavit filed in the case.

“None of the stabs penetrated the FBI special agent’s body armor, and the agent suffered only minor injuries,” the document says.

Mr. Mumuni’s violent response to law enforcement was similar to the arrest on Saturday of Munther Omar Saleh of Queens for involvement in the same alleged plot.

Mr. Saleh was taken into custody at about 4 a.m. Saturday after he and another man allegedly charged a vehicle being used by agents with New York’s terrorism task force to track Saleh’s movements.

Saleh ran toward the surveillance vehicle wielding a knife, according to court documents. The other man had a tactical folding knife concealed in his waistband.

The agents were able to avoid the “attack” by jamming their vehicle into reverse, according to court documents. Other officers arrived and arrested Saleh and the other man.

The other man, identified only as a co-conspirator, has not yet been named by officials. Documents also refer to a second unnamed co-conspirator.

The arrests and associated violent confrontations came roughly two weeks after a Muslim man in Boston was shot and killed by members of a terrorism task force in that city after he allegedly approached law enforcement officials brandishing a large knife.

Officials said they suspected the Boston man, Usaama Rahim, was seeking to kill and behead a policeman in response to a call from the Islamic State to conduct terror attacks in the United States and elsewhere.

A 14-page sworn affidavit filed by an FBI agent in the New York case says that Saleh, a US citizen, was operating under the same motive – to answer a call to arms from the terror group. The most recent call was issued May 14 by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

According to a nine-page affidavit filed in support of Mumuni’s arrest, both Saleh and Mumuni told investigators that they had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Mumuni, also a US citizen, added that he intended to travel to Syria to fight on behalf of the group, or if that wasn’t possible, he intended to attack law enforcement officials in the US.

He also admitted to discussing construction of a pressure cooker bomb with Saleh, according to court documents.

Saleh was particularly well-suited to assemble an explosive device, documents say. He was a student at an aeronautics college in Queens and had begun studying electrical circuitry.

The agent said an investigation by the terrorism task force “has revealed that Saleh espouses violent jihadist beliefs and is a fervent supporter of [the Islamic State.]

“The investigation has uncovered that Saleh is making efforts to prepare an explosive device for detonation in the New York metropolitan area on behalf of [the Islamic State],” the affidavit says.

The FBI reached this conclusion after monitoring Saleh’s communications and his use of social media, and conducting physical surveillance. For example, agents noted that in recent months Saleh had issued tweets on Twitter expressing his support for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the burning alive of a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot, the beheading of a Japanese journalist, and an attack by two gunmen in Garland, Texas, at a venue for a cartoon contest featuring depictions of the prophet Muhammad. 

Saleh also translated videos and other materials supporting the Islamic State's campaign to wage jihad and establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

In an unusual encounter, a Port Authority police officer noticed Saleh on or near the George Washington Bridge on two consecutive days in late March.

After the second encounter, the officer took Saleh back to Port Authority office, where he was questioned by agents with the terrorism task force.

He denied extensive knowledge of the Islamic State and told agents he disapproved of the group and did not support violence.

Continued surveillance revealed a different story, according to the affidavit.

In May, he conducted an Internet search for US Army Special Forces, including for service rifle, combat tomahawk, Ranger-series fixed blade knife, and tactical ax.

“These types of weapons have recently been used in terrorist attacks by [Islamic State] supporters around the world,” the affidavit says.

Also in early May, the task force arranged to have a confidential source contact Saleh. During the conversation, Saleh asked the source where he/she was located. The source suggested the US northeast.

Saleh replied: “Well I’m in NY and trying to do an Op,” according to the affidavit.

The court document says that agents understand the term “Op” to mean that he was preparing to conduct a terrorist attack.

That same day, Saleh e-mailed himself information from the Internet discussing how to build a pressure cooker bomb, the same type of device used in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack.

He also viewed images on the Internet of New York City attractions, which officials said were likely targets for a terror attack.

He searched for information about public location surveillance cameras and viewed an image taken from a security camera during the Columbine school shooting. The affidavit says agents believe this research was conducted in an effort to find a way to evade surveillance.

Other Internet searches included knives, ammunition, crossbow, bulletproof vest, chemical mask, as well as wigs and beards. He also searched for information about remote-controlled helicopters and drones.

Saleh is charged with a single count of conspiring to provide material support to a terror group.

Mumuni is charged with attempting to kill a federal agent.

Both have been ordered held without bond pending further action in their cases.

The cases are USA v. Saleh (15MJ543) and USA v. Mumuni (15MJ554).

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