MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This morning, the FBI arrested a Virginia man. They say he was plotting to bomb the Washington, D.C., Metro system. His name is Farooque Ahmed. Law-enforcement officials say he was working with people he thought were al-Qaida operatives, but in actual fact, they were working with the FBI.
NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is here with the latest. Dina, what do we know about this man and what he might've been planning?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, NPR's learned that Ahmed first came to officials' attention earlier this year, when he was trying to get some materials that could've been made into a bomb. And then a short time later, became the target of an undercover operation. Allegedly, he had planned to bomb metro stations on his own. And authorities say the plan was all his idea.
And then these undercover people intercepted him, and they said they were members of al-Qaida, and he started working with them.
NORRIS: So the plot was essentially being monitored every step of the way by the FBI?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, essentially. I mean, Ahmed allegedly started doing reconnaissance on which Metro stops to attack, back in April. And then he spent about five months videotaping and diagramming the stations so he could figure out the best place to put a bomb. And apparently, he passed that information on to the undercovers, thinking they were al-Qaida and maybe they'd help him.
And he would meet them every few weeks in hotel rooms and in several of those meetings, he would pass along photographs or video of potential targets, including Metro stations and hotels. And in one of the meetings, he even told them the best time to stage an attack would be between 4 and 5 p.m. - basically rush hour - to have the most casualties. And he'd singled out Arlington Cemetery stop, Courthouse, Pentagon City and Crystal City, which are all super busy stops just outside of D.C. in Virginia.
And he allegedly told these undercovers that he would use rolling suitcases instead of backpacks so he wouldn't attract undue attention.
NORRIS: Now, you say authorities note that the plan was all his idea. Put this in perspective for us. Was this a serious plot?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, in the grand scheme of things, no. I mean, basically, the way law enforcement ranks these plots is whether they're operational or aspirational. And operational means that the people behind them have training and expertise and maybe even an al-Qaida element that would allow them to pull it off. Aspirational are usually people who want to attack, but might not have the same sort of skill sets or abilities to do that.
NORRIS: It sounds like this is even perhaps a third category, because it was an undercover operation.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. I mean, he didn't actually connect with anyone from al-Qaida. He just thought they were. And, you know, there have been a couple of recent cases like this that have involved the FBI. Earlier this month, a Jordanian man named Hosam Smadi was sentenced to 24 years in prison for plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. In that case, the FBI provided dummy explosives that he put in a van and drove into the basement of the building. And agents in that instance also pretended to be al-Qaida operatives.
And then this time last year, Michael Finton, who was a Illinois convert to Islam, also allegedly drove a van into the basement of a courthouse in Springfield. But the difference between these cases is that when you have a case like the Times Square case, where there was actually training and an overseas connection to the attack, those kinds of cases are much more serious.
What we seem to seeing today, at least with the evidence that we've seen so far, just really wasn't that kind of serious case.
NORRIS: Thank you, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, talking about the arrest today of a man accused of plotting to bomb the Washington, D.C., Metro.
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