US authorities thwarted planned 2016 attacks on New York

People walk in the rain in Times Square in New York, US, on May 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - An undercover FBI agent helped thwart a militant plot to attack targets including New York's subway and Times Square, the authorities announced in unsealing the charges on Friday (Oct 6).

Three people have been charged with involvement in the planned attacks, which were to be carried out in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2016.

The 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris and another on the metro in Belgium the following year served as inspiration for the planned killings in New York.

Those attacks were both claimed by the ISIS militant group which has inspired a series of deadly attacks abroad.

Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 19-year-old Canadian who purchased bombmaking materials and was arrested after travelling to the US, has pled guilty to "terrorism offences", the statement said.

Talha Haroon, a 19-year-old American citizen living in Pakistan, allegedly planned to take part in the attacks, while Russell Salic of the Philippines, 37, allegedly provided funds for the operation.

The attacks were thwarted with the help of an undercover FBI agent posing as an ISIS supporter who communicated with the three plotters.

Haroon and Salic have been arrested abroad, and their extradition to the US is pending.

"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," the statement said.

El Bahnasawy sent the undercover FBI agent an image of Times Square, saying that "we seriously need a car bomb" to attack it and that he wanted to "shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot of people."

Haroon, meanwhile, told the agent that the subway would make a "perfect" target, and that suicide vests could be detonated after the attackers expended their ammunition.

Salic also began communicating with the FBI agent, eventually sending "approximately US$423" - or S$577 - to fund the attacks and promising to send more, according to prosecutors.

New York was the target of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and led the US to launch an open-ended "war on terror" that included invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and military operations in a number of other countries.

These operations led, directly and indirectly, to tens of thousands of deaths, and cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars.

The most recent attack in New York occurred in September 2016, when a pressure cooker bomb exploded in the Chelsea neighbourhood, wounding 29 people.

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