NEW YORK, June 17 (UPI) -- A Queens, N.Y. college student who was planning an alleged terror attack on New York City landmarks on behalf of the Islamic State was arrested on federal charges after a month long investigation.
Munther Omar Saleh, 20, a Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology student, is a "fervent supporter" of the IS, also known as the ISIS or ISIL, and was learning to build a pressure-cooker bomb through online tutorials and studying tourist areas throughout the city for an attack location, the criminal complaint said. The complaint also stated Saleh translated IS propaganda materials into English and criticized al Qaida as "too moderate." He was arrested Saturday when he ran toward undercover investigators who were following him.
Prosecutors said Saleh, a United States citizen, has been investigating and supporting IS activities online since 2014, tweeting his support for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the attacks in Garland, Texas and the beheadings of several IS prisoners as well as researching "jihadist propaganda" materials.
In March, Saleh, who was walking across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, asked the Port Authority police for a ride. The officer told him to catch a bus, but he never did, according to documents. The same day, police spotted Saleh loitering on the New York side of the bridge. Saleh agreed to meet with police at the Port Authority office in New Jersey and allowed investigators to search his computer. Court documents say investigators found indications Saleh was translating IS documents into English and online activity indicating he was researching electronic circuitry and weapons. He also searched online for wigs and beards, investigators said. He repeatedly denied any link to the extremist organization.
The complaint said a confidential informant befriended Saleh. In one of their conversations, Saleh said, "Well I'm in NY and trying to do an op," referring to an operation. He later told the informant he was not allowed to continue any conversations because, "I was ordered by dawlah officials not to talk to anyone." Investigators said dawlah refers to the IS.
Early Saturday, Saleh and two others in a green Jeep Cherokee tried to elude a undercover investigators by driving into a parking lot with their lights off. A short time later, about 4 a.m. ,near the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, Saleh and one of the other people in his car ran towards the undercover vehicle. Investigators said the co-conspirator, who was not charged in the complaint, had a knife in his waistband.
A man who identified himself as Saleh's brother told the New York Daily News his sibling "would never kill anyone."
"What kind of person is he? He's a good person. He wouldn't do anything wrong," said the man, who wouldn't give his name. "He's innocent. That's it."