MIAMI, March 13 (UPI) -- Two Pakistan-born brothers who were raised in South Florida pleaded guilty Thursday to attempting to plot a terror attack against New York City, and one also admitted guilt to reaching out to hardline terrorist elements in the Middle East.
Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 32, and Raees Alam Qazi, 22, each plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to terrorists and a count of conspiracy to assault two federal law enforcement officers. Raees Qazi also plead guilty to an additional charge of attempting to provide support to al Qaeda, Ft. Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel reported.
Investigators said the brothers began their terrorist activities at least as far back as the summer of 2011 and hatched potential strikes against numerous landmarks in New York City. The pair were arrested in November 2012 after one of the men spent a few days in New York to scout possible targets.
Although both men actively discussed terrorism, court documents indicate that the younger Qazi was more personally involved, possibly a "lone wolf" terrorist.
Investigators say Sheheryar Qazi wasn't privy to all the specific details of his brother's plan, but knew that he was planning to set off a bomb somewhere in Manhattan. He also provided emotional and financial support, officials said.
Raees Qazi was charged with the additional count of attempting to assist al Qaeda for two trips he made to Pakistan in 2011 and 2012, where he tried to cross into Afghanistan and fight with the insurgents. There, however, he was told by terror leaders in Yemen that no additional rebels were needed in Afghanistan -- and that he should instead focus his efforts on striking in the United States, court documents said.
By the time Raees Qazi traveled to the Middle East, federal authorities had become aware of the brothers' activities. After losing track of Raees for five days, officials said, federal agents finally arrested the two in late 2012. Both have been locked up without bond since.
Investigators said the plotting never reached an operational phase due to a lack of money.
The men also pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of conspiring to assault two federal marshals, for an incident last April at the federal court complex in downtown Miami. Prosecutors said they distracted the marshals and began fighting with them during a transfer.
The brothers were expected to be tried in June, facing many more charges, but prosecutors and defense attorneys struck a plea deal that led to the Qazis' guilty pleas Thursday. Instead, that is when they will each be sentenced.
An attorney for one of the men said the brothers knew they didn't stand a chance at trial, CBS Miami reported.
"He decided to enter a guilty plea. As he told the court, he did so because he was in fact guilty," said Attorney William Barzee.
Evidence that would have been used against the Qazi brothers at trial include FBI wiretaps and communication intercepts that were detected by the National Security Agency's controversial cellphone monitoring program.
Raees faces a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison and Sheheryar 20 years. Prosecutors will recommend 32 years and 17, respectively, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The men faced life imprisonment had they gone to trial and been convicted.
Both men were born in Pakistan but lived the majority of their lives in the Miami area and became naturalized U.S. citizens, officials said.