A Canadian caught plotting terrorist attacks targeting the New York subway, concert venues and Times Square has “serious mental health and substance abuse issues,” his lawyer says in newly-unsealed court documents.
The documents refer repeatedly to Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy’s struggles with drugs and unspecified “mental health issues,” confirming what sources have told Global News since his arrest in New Jersey.
At the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York, El Bahnasawy “was visited by a BOP [Bureau of Prisons] psychiatrist and is receiving medication,” Preet Bharara, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote in a June 8, 2016 letter.
El Bahnasawy’s lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, also described the Canadian’s “prior documented mental health issues” at a June 16, 2016 court hearing. His visitation rights were suspended for 18 months after he was caught using drugs in prison.
But when El Bahnasawy pleaded guilty on Oct. 13, 2016, the judge questioned him at length about his physical and mental health. The judge, El Bahnasawy and his lawyers all agreed he was competent to enter a guilty plea.
“I feel well,” he told the judge.
“And you understand what is happening in this proceeding in court today?” the judge asked.
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On Friday, the U.S. announced that El Bahnasawy had pleaded guilty to plotting attacks in coordination with co-conspirators in Pakistan and the Philippines. The plot was linked to the Pakistani branch of the so-called Islamic State.
El Bahnasawy said in court he was born in Kuwait and moved to Canada as a child. He attended school in Canada from grades 2 to 8 and then returned to Kuwait for grades 9 and 10. He began grade 11 in Canada but did not finish.
Following a U.S. undercover operation in cooperation with the RCMP, the 19-year-old Mississauga, Ont. resident was arrested on May 21, 2016 and held under a sealed indictment for 17 months while U.S. authorities completed their investigation.
The newly-released documents show the Canadian consulate in New York was kept informed about the case and that El Bahnasawy’s home in Canada was searched after a warrant was issued by the Ontario Court of Justice.
They also offer the first glimpse of El Bahnasawy, who was barely out of high school when he began plotting what he called the “U.S. project,” a plot to conduct bomb and firearm attacks in the New York area.
“I wanna create the next 9/11,” he wrote to a man he thought was a co-conspirator but who was actually working undercover for the police. El Bahnasawy’s “main intention,” he added, was “to please Allah by dying for him.”
“These Americans need an attack,” El Bahnasawy wrote to the undercover agent, using one of the multiple accounts he had set up. “We will shake them inshallah [God willing]” and “show them what they hadn’t seen in 2001.”
“We seriously need a car bomb at times square,” the Canadian wrote, along with a photograph of the New York City destination. “Look at these crowds of people!” He compared his plan to open fire at a live music show to the November 2015 attack in Paris. “U just walk in and shoot,” he wrote.
It was more than empty talk. On May 7, he bought 40 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, a primary component of a TATP bomb, and shipped it to the undercover officer. Told it had arrived, he responded: “Allahu Akhbar [God is great].”
In all, he sent seven packages of bomb materials. He also inquired about renting a cabin near Albany, N.Y., where the bombs could be built. The attacks were to occur in June 2016, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, U.S. authorities said.
It was one of the scenarios most feared by the Canadian government: a Canadian extremist crossing the border to attack the United States. The Al-Qaeda-trained Montreal resident Ahmed Ressam tried to do the same in 1999, plotting to target the Los Angeles airport.
El Bahnasawy told the undercover officer he would be traveling to New York with his family on May 21. Crossing the border would be easy, he wrote, because it would look like a family trip. He told the agent to pick him up at his hotel.
But he was arrested that day and held in custody in New York, the case sealed on the grounds there was an “imminent threat” to U.S. national security.
He faces sentencing on Dec. 12.
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