A 37-year-old Filipino doctor provided funds to support a 2016 foiled plot to carry out bombings and shootings in crowded areas, including concert venues, in New York City, U.S. authorities said Friday.
Russell Salic, who was arrested in April 2017 in the Philippines, is awaiting extradition to the United States as federal authorities unsealed the charges against him and two men for allegedly plotting to attack targets in New York, including its subway system.
Authorities said the thwarted attacks were to be carried out by the suspects under the name of the Islamic State during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan last year.
The plot was foiled when an undercover FBI agent posed as an IS supporter and communicated with the three suspects through electronic messaging apps accessible on cellphones, according to a statement issued by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office.
Salic (alias Abu Khalid) wired about $500 to the undercover agent in the United States to help fund the terror plot, the statement said. It said the Filipino doctor, who allegedly maintained an active pro-militant social media presence, also conveyed that he had previously sent money to other countries in support of IS.
“For example, on May 9, 2016, Salic informed the [FBI undercover agent] that he was ‘desperate’ to travel to Syria to join ISIS,” the statement said, using another acronym for IS.
Salic, an orthopedic surgeon, also expressed his belief that he could safely send money to support the attacks from the Philippines, where he claimed to be at the time, without attracting law-enforcement scrutiny, the statement also said.
He allegedly told the agent that “it would be a great pleasure if we can slaughter” people in New York, adding that he would be “praying to Allah for the success of the operation when the planned attacks were imminent.”
Salic faces multiple charges, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, which carry penalties of life imprisonment.
Authorities had also filed charges against Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, 19, a Canadian citizen who purchased bomb-making materials and secured a cabin in the New York area; and Talha Haroon, 19, a U.S. citizen living in Pakistan, who allegedly travelled around that country to meet with explosive experts.
“Communicating through Internet messaging applications, these three men allegedly plotted to conduct bombings and shootings in heavily populated areas of New York City during the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan in 2016, all in the name of ISIS,” the statement said.
El Bahnasawy, who bought 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, which prosecutors alleged could be used to make an improvised explosive device, has pled guilty to terrorism-related offenses, the statement said.
He was taken into custody when he traveled from Canada to New York City on May 21, 2016, while preparing to execute the plan, the statement said.
It said El Bahnasawy and Haroon declared their allegiance to IS in electronic communications with the FBI agent and expressed intentions of imitating the 2015 attacks in Paris and the series of bombings that ripped through the Brussels airport and a metro train in 2016.
More than 128 people died and 180 were injured when four gunmen wielding AK-47s stormed into a concert hall in the Paris attacks, while 31 people died in the Belgium bombings.
Multiple locations identified
“El Bahnasawy and Haroon identified multiple locations and events in and around New York City as targets of the planned attacks, including the New York City subway system, Times Square, and certain concert venues,” according to the statement.
It said that on May 1, 2016, El Bahnasawy sent the undercover agent “multiple images of maps of the New York City subway system containing markings that depicted plans for attacking the subway system, including by identifying the subway lines in which explosives would be detonated.”
Court documents, referenced by the statement, said that on May 12, 2016, El Bahnasawy sent the FBI agent an image of Times Square and stated: “We seriously need a car bomb at times square … Look at these crowds of people!”
That same day, according to court documents, El Bahnasawy also expressed his desire to “shoot up concerts [because that would] kill a lot of people.”
The documents said El Bahnasawy described the plan to attack concerts as follows: “We just walk in with guns in our hands. That’s how the Paris guys did it.”
Authorities unsealed the charges against the three men as investigators remained stumped about what drove a reclusive 64-year-old gambler to rain down bullets Sunday night at a country music concert from his 32nd-floor hotel suite in Las Vegas, killing 58 and wounding hundreds before taking his own life.
Investigators said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, wired $100,000 to his girlfriend Marilou Danley in the Philippines days before the attack. But in a statement read by her lawyer after she came back to the United States, Danley said it “never occurred” to her that her boyfriend was planning violence against anyone.