Fort Lauderdale man denied bond on terrorism-related charges

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A Fort Lauderdale taxicab driver accused of helping his younger brother plan a terrorist attack on New York City will not be released from the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami before their trial.

A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday denied a motion from Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 30, of Oakland Park, who had initially agreed to be detained after his and his brother’s arrests in November.

The following month, a magistrate judge ordered the detention of his younger brother, Raees Alam Qazi, 20, saying he was a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Both brothers, natives of Pakistan, are naturalized U.S. citizens who lived together.

U.S. Magistrate Chris M. McAliley, after Tuesday’s hearing, denied the older brother’s bond request, saying Sheheryar Alam Qazi is a flight risk.

The brothers are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. If convicted, the Qazis each face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison on the material-support charge, and a potential life sentence on the weapons charge.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gilbert said that the older brother “played a significant role” by paying for the younger brother’s living expenses, food and a computer to research how to build a bomb.

“He paid for everything so his brother could concentrate on his plan for the attack in New York,” Gilbert argued. “He fully knew what his brother was intending to do.”

The older brother’s defense attorney, Ronald Chapman, disputed those claims and argued that his client’s recorded conversations with undercover informants and his wife could be “interpreted in an innocent way.”

Chapman proposed a $20,000 bond for his client, suggesting he could live with his parents, wife and son in Sunrise and wear an electronic monitor on his ankle.

Gilbert, the prosecutor, said that in August 2012, Sheheryar Qazi told an FBI informant in a recorded conversation that his brother was “hooked up with al-Qaida.” Gilbert also described Sheheryar Qazi’s wife as an “unindicted co-conspirator” who was fully aware of the alleged plot.

Sheheryar Qazi, who had worked for Yellow Cab, helped his brother financially, including buying the computer from an FBI informant. Raees Alam Qazi allegedly researched how to make a bomb on the Internet, studying al-Qaida’s English-language online magazine, “Inspire.”

The older brother was also recorded describing his brother as a “lone wolf,” like the Times Square bomber who was arrested in 2010.

On Nov. 23, Raees Qazi traveled with a friend in a van from Fort Lauderdale to New York. There, he rode a bicycle around Manhattan, surveying possible target sites such as Wall Street, Times Square and the theater district, according to the FBI.

Upon his return to Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 29, the Qazi brothers were arrested in Oakland Park. Raees Qazi initially denied everything, then confessed to the bombing plot, according to Gilbert.

FBI agents seized strings of Christmas lights, batteries and peroxide from his and his brother’s Oakland Park home — materials that were going to be used for either a suicide-style bombing or remote detonation, Gilbert said.

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