Federal law enforcement authorities arrested a Northern Virginia man Wednesday in connection with an alleged plot to carry out terrorist bombings at stations in the Washington Metro system.
Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn conspired with people he believed to be al-Qaida operatives to bomb the Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon City, Crystal City and Court House stations, according to a federal indictment.
An Obama administration official said that Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, first drew the attention of law enforcement officials by seeking to obtain unspecified materials. He later became the target of an undercover sting, officials said.
According to the indictment, federal agents posing as Islamic radicals began meeting with Ahmed in April. At the meetings, held in Northern Virginia hotels, he allegedly agreed to conduct video surveillance of the stations and suggested the best time to attack and the best locations to place explosives to maximize casualties. He is also accused of later turning over video and sketches he made of the stations.
Officials stressed that the public was never in danger. Still, Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said it was "chilling that a man from Ashburn is accused of casing rail stations with the goal of killing as many Metro riders as possible through simultaneous bomb attacks."
Muslim leaders in Northern Virginia said that, as of late Wednesday, no one had reported knowing or having interacted with Ahmed at local mosques. His arrest, however, touched off a conversation about whether Ahmed might have initiated a plot or whether law enforcement officials had floated the idea to him, as has been suggested in other FBI sting operations.
"It's a conversation that's definitely going on in the community," said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, spokesman for Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church. "At the same time, though, if you're dumb enough and sick enough to think you're working for al-Qaeda, then maybe your behind should be put in jail. If what the authorities accuse him of turns out to be true, I have very little sympathy for someone who plans something like that."
Ahmed was arrested in Herndon at 9:40 a.m. Wednesday after he was told to come to a meeting where he would discuss his surveillance activities, officials said. He later appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on terrorism charges.
Sporting a full beard and wearing a gray polo shirt and blue jeans, Ahmed shook his head and let out a deep sigh in apparent disbelief as the charges against him were read. "Yes, yes," Ahmed said, as the judge told him the charges were serious.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson ordered him held until a detention hearing Friday.
Ahmed, who holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from City University of New York, works in Northern Virginia for Ericsson, a telecommunications company, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was pursuing a graduate degree online in risk management and data security at Aspen University, according to the profile.
Kathy Egan, an Ericsson spokeswoman, confirmed that Ahmed is a Reston-based contractor for the firm but declined to release any other details about his employment. "We will cooperate with the authorities," she said.