On Thursday, police arrested a man who they say was planning on throwing explosives at people in New York City’s famed Times Square.
He’s now being described as “a lone wolf”, but has not been publicly identified yet.
He was arrested after investigators from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force learned that he was inquiring about buying grenades.
While police haven’t released his name, age, nationality or place of residence, he’s said to be scheduled to appear in court in Brooklyn on Friday.
Police say they do not believe he’s linked to any larger plan to attack the city, and stress there’s no current threat now that he’s been arrested.
The joint task force is made up of members of both the FBI and New York Police Department.
Times Square, which is a commercial and entertainment district in the heart of Manhattan that attracts huge numbers of visitors every year, has frequently been linked to terror-related arrests.
- In 2018, a Canadian man was sentenced to 40 years in prison for plotting to carry out attacks on Times Square, the New York City subway system and concert venues in 2016.
- In 2016, an Uber driver in Brooklyn was arrested and charged with trying to join ISIS and and planning a Times Square similar to one earlier in the year in Nice, France, in which a truck was driven into crowds of people.
- 2010, a car bombing didn’t happen after the bomb failed to detonate and a sharp-eyed street vendor called police. Months later, the suspect, who claimed to be a follower of Usama bin Laden, was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the case.
- In 2008, a U.S. military recruitment station was bombed. Nobody was injured in that early morning blast, but the case still remains unsolved.
But on Thursday, a chilling confession from a captured ISIS fighter was revealed that shed light on how the terrorist group is planning on striking next.
It came from Abu Henricki, a Canadian citizen with dual citizenship from Trinidad.
He claims the terrorist group plans to exploit the vulnerabilities of the U.S. border with Mexico, using English speakers and westerners to take advantage of smuggling routes and target financial institutions.
He was arrested last month, and admitted he was sought out by the violent insurgency’s leadership to attack the U.S. from a route starting in Central America.
That’s according to a study by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and published in Homeland Security Today.
Anne Speckhard co-conducted the study as the director of ICSVE and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University. She said it doesn’t come as a surprise.
“ISIS has organized plots in Europe with returnees so it seems entirely plausible that they wanted to send guys out to attack. The issue that makes a North American attack harder is the travel is more difficult from Syria,” she said.
But that’s where the loophole lies.
“So the idea that they would instead use people who were not known to their own governments as having joined ISIS might make it possible for them to board airplanes.”
Authorities say Henricki traveled to Syria with the intention of serving as an ISIS fighter. But he was reportedly later told he could not take on soldier duties because of a chronic illness.
He then claims at the end of 2016, he was “invited” by the ISIS intelligence wing – known as the emni – to join other Trinidadians and launch financial attacks on the U.S.
He says the attacks were described to him as being designed to “cripple the U.S. economy,”. He also claims he was informed that he would be issued false identification and passports and would be maneuvered from Puerto Rico to Mexico and then to the United States.
“The plan came from someone from the New Jersey state of America. I was going to take the boat from Puerto Rico into Mexico. He was going to smuggle me in,” he said.
He went on to say he believed the scheme was aimed at New York financial targets.
“They wanted to use these people (to attack inside the U.S.) because they were from these areas,” Henricki told the scholars, indicating that they were either from North America or were English speakers.
He said other Trinidadians were also approached to “do the same thing.”
But he claims he refused the mission and was subsequently thrown into an ISIS prison in Manbij where he was brutally tortured.
His wife, who is also a Canadian, was also imprisoned in a women’s department and he said she endured psychological torture.
“This plot is likely dead as those who were pressured to join it are according to Abu Henricki now all dead and ISIS is in retreat as we know,” Speckhard said.
She points out that should put us on high alert.
“We often hear about terrorists trying to enter the southern border in political debate, but I rarely have come across a real case. It surprised me to hear this was a real plot by ISIS to exploit our southern border. That’s concerning of course.”
Earlier this year, Henricki surrendered to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the final assault to take back Baghouz.
He’s still in prison in the SDF-controlled region of Syria, with their futures in legal limbo as many foreign governments are not willing to take back accused ISIS operatives.
The authors of the report stressed that it serves to demonstrate that ISIS has discussed and operationalized ways in which their operatives could infiltrate our borders and cause harm to our citizens.
They also said to downplay the potential terrorist threats from the border areas would be harmful to the safety of Americans.
“This account is not a warning bulletin for an imminent attack against our country, nor is it a fear-mongering attempt to suggest a wave of ISIS terrorists are waiting to cross our southern border,” the authors added. “But a reminder to diligently consider leads and sources that confirm terrorists’ intentions to exploit one of the weakest links in our national security – our borders.”