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2 Held in Plot to Blow Up Subway

The American and Pakistani men allegedly planned to hide bombs in backpacks. The suspects are not linked to Al Qaeda, officials say.

August 29, 2004|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Federal agents have arrested two men for allegedly plotting to blow up New York subway stations and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in a scheme that was foiled by an undercover informant, police said Saturday.

The plan was not linked to the Republican National Convention, but officials said the suspects, a U.S. citizen and Pakistani national, had been under surveillance for a year and were arrested as a precautionary measure.

The subway bomb plot was allegedly planned by suspects who were not connected to Al Qaeda or any other known terrorist organization, officers said. The two men -- who were arraigned Saturday on federal charges and were being held without bail -- planned to hide several bombs in backpacks, police said.

"It was clear they had the intention to cause damage, to kill people," New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a news conference, adding that the men had made anti-Semitic remarks and had "a hatred of America."

He noted, however, that "they did not immediately have the means" to carry out their plans and had not drawn up a particularly sophisticated scheme.

Shahawar Siraj, of Queens, and James El Shafay, of Staten Island, were arrested on suspicion of attempting to destroy the 34th Street subway station, according to a criminal complaint filed Saturday.

The station, a transportation hub, is several blocks from the convention site.

The men also discussed plans to destroy the Verrazano bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island, as well as a subway station at Times Square and another at 59th Street, plus police stations in Staten Island, Kelly said.

Neither man possessed explosives, but a third man -- who turned out to be a police informant -- promised to help them obtain the materials.

In several recorded conversations, police said, the men discussed methods of planting bombs in the subways, and the informant accompanied the suspects to the 34th Street station, where they were observed drawing diagrams mapping out a potential attack.

El Shafay, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, and Pakistani-born Siraj, 21, face charges that could bring them a minimum five-year sentence and a maximum of 20 years, said William Muller, an executive assistant with the U.S. attorney for New York's Eastern District.

Tom Dunn, a lawyer representing El Shafay, said his client would plead not guilty. Heidi Cesare, a lawyer representing Siraj, had no comment, Associated Press reported.

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