New York police arrest Isil sympathiser in Brooklyn ‘planning Times Square attack’
Police on guard in Times Square
Harriet Alexander, New York
Telegraph, 22 November 2016 • 7:53pm
Police in New York have arrested a man who they say was plotting a terrorist attack on Times Square, copying the rampage this summer in Nice.
Mohamed Rafik Naji, 37, was seized while sleeping in his Brooklyn home at 3am on Monday, and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
In July wiretaps on Naji’s phone recorded him discussing how he wanted to drive a bin lorry into the crowds in Times Square.
“I was saying if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck, and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them – shshshshshsh… Times Square Day,” he allegedly told a confidential source on July 19.
Americans are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, and police are on high alert to the possibility of a terrorist attack. Isil’s online magazine said last week that “an excellent target” would be the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which passes through central Manhattan on Thursday morning and last year brought 3.5 million people to the streets, with 50 million television viewers nationwide.
Naji said that Isil were already carrying out reconnaissance missions around the square – something which New York police have suspected for a while.
In May 2010 a Pakistani man attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.
“They want an operation in Times Square, reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square, you understand,” said Naji.
“I said that was an indication for whoever is smart to know.”
Naji appeared before a magistrate, Robert Levy, in Brooklyn on Monday afternoon and has been held in prison, denied bail.
Officials in court said that Naji drove cars for Uber, but the company denied that he worked for them.
Prosecutors allege that his Isil sympathy begun in December 2014.
He travelled to Yemen in March 2015, staying there until September. During that time he attempted to make it into Isil-held territory, but failed.
“It’s very hard to get in – I’m on my fifth try,” he emailed his girlfriend, back in the US. “It’s difficult – mad military and people here very scared.”
Naji also emailed her to request money to fund his terrorist endeavours, asking for $2,000 for a plane ticket in April 2015, and saying it was tiring “hiding in the mountains for three weeks”.
He also allegedly sent the girlfriend video files of his “first day on the job” on April 21, 2015 — around the same time when Isil was fighting in Yemen — in which gunshots and male voices can be heard.
He updated his Facebook profile picture to depict two men armed with guns, walking toward an Isil flag, and posted videos of Isil fighters in combat.
In one of the online conversations with the confidential source Naji proclaimed his allegiance to Isil stating, “I belong to Islamic state only.”
Susan Kellman, his lawyer, said that Naji had “a legitimate purpose” for being in Yemen.
“I have no idea what my client said and what the confidential source said,” she said. “He had a legitimate purpose for being in Yemen. He has family there.”
Naji is the latest man in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn to be arrested on charges related to supporting terror groups. At least six others have been accused of supporting Isil, or attempting to join the group, since mid-2015.
Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York state, said the arrest is “a sharp reminder of the evolving threat of global terrorism.”
He added: “New York must remain vigilant in the face of hate and intolerance, and continue to advance the core values of democracy that this state and nation were founded upon.”