A Kansas City business owner supported a “nascent” plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange, an FBI official said Tuesday during a Washington hearing on intelligence gathering.
Federal investigators used secret surveillance warrants to identify Khalid Ouazzani, who awaits sentencing in Missouri next month on terrorism-related charges, as part of the scheme, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce told the House intelligence committee.
“Ouazzani had been providing information and support to this plot,” Joyce said. “The FBI disrupted and arrested these individuals.”
The Kansas City man has been linked to a New York man who prosecutors said did surveillance of the stock exchange. But Ouazzani’s lawyer said Tuesday that his client had no knowledge or role in that plot.
“Khalid Ouazzani had nothing to do with any plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange,” said Robin Fowler, who declined further comment.
Security officials cited Ouazzani’s case at the hearing as an example of how U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts had prevented more than 50 terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries.
The Obama administration has been under fire from civil libertarians in recent weeks following reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post suggesting that the National Security Agency had undertaken a huge and indiscriminate data-collection effort on telephone and Internet communications.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, appeared before a rare open session of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence along with representatives of the FBI, the Office of National Intelligence and the Justice Department to quell public angst over the size and scope of the government’s telephone and Internet surveillance activities.
“This is not a program that’s off the books, that’s been hidden away,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers. “It’s been overseen by three branches of our government: the legislature, the judiciary and the executive branch.”
Authorities have not said when Ouazzani, who was born in Morocco, came to Kansas City. Before his arrest, he operated several businesses in the area, including a used auto parts business and at least one cellphone store, and lived in a tidy townhouse cooperative near 87th Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard. A married father of two, he became a U.S. citizen on June 16, 2006.
He swore allegiance to the al-Qaida terrorist organization in 2008, two years before he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization. He admitted sending more than $23,000 to al-Qaida and performing “other tasks” for the group.
Additional details about his alleged terrorist activities are cited in federal court records filed last month in New York. The records refer to Ouazzani only by the initials C.W., which stands for “cooperating witness” in legal parlance.
Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City, confirmed that Ouazzani is the witness to which the documents refer and has worked as a witness against two men now facing terrorism charges in New York: Sabirhan Hasanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi.
All three men had aspired to work for al-Qaida since 2003, according to court records. They got their break in 2006 when Hasanoff and El-Hanafi met a terror supporter in the United Arab Emirates who, in turn, introduced them to two confirmed Yemeni members of al-Qaida, identified in court records only as “Suffian” and “the Doctor.”
Together, the three Americans funneled money to al-Qaida. The men believed the money would be used to pay for military training when they traveled abroad to participate in terrorist operations, court records said.
However, when questioned by U.S. authorities, the Doctor said at least some of the money had been given to the needy families of Islamic martyrs and to purchase automobiles, court records said.
The plot against the New York Stock Exchange, as alleged in court records, never really got beyond a walk around the block and one written report.
During a February 2008 trip to Yemen, El-Hanafi received instructions from the Doctor to have Hasanoff size up the exchange, court records said.
“Specifically, the Doctor stated that he had contemplated an attack on the New York Stock Exchange, but that he had very little information about the site, including its location, size and security,” according to court records.
Several months later, Hasanoff sent a one-page report noting that vehicular traffic was not permitted around the exchange and that “someone would have to walk to the building,” court records said.
The Doctor later told U.S. authorities that he was not pleased with Hasanoff’s work.
“The report apparently lacked sufficient detail about the New York Stock Exchange security matters to be as helpful as the Doctor had hoped,” court records said.
Ouazzani is not mentioned in court records as having any role in the stock exchange operation.
In his testimony before Congress, Joyce said U.S. authorities uncovered the terrorist cell and the stock exchange plot using authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That provision allows the NSA to monitor the communications of people outside the U.S. believed to be involved with terrorism, cyber attacks or nuclear proliferation.
Joyce said that by targeting a known Yemeni extremist who was in contact with Ouazzani, the FBI obtained a warrant from the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that turned up the stock exchange plot.
“The FBI immediately served legal process to fully identify Ouazzani,” Joyce said. “We went up on electronic surveillance and identified his co-conspirators.”
The New York court records made no mention of secret warrants or the surveillance court, but it notes that the government’s evidence file contained emails between the alleged plotters that confirmed the stories of the al-Qaida members whom FBI agents had interviewed in Yemen.
Former FBI Agent Jeff Lanza said he wasn’t surprised that prosecutors didn’t mention in open court records how they had identified Ouazzani and others in the cell.
“They probably couldn’t put it in because of its classified nature,” Lanza said.