ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani-American man accused of plotting attacks in New York City for Islamic State is scheduled to appear at an extradition hearing in a Pakistani court on Friday.
Talha Haroon, 19, was arrested in Pakistan in 2016 after U.S. authorities identified him as one of three men, along with a Canadian citizen and a man from the Philippines, planning attacks on Manhattan’s Times Square and the city’s subway. His lawyer and family deny the charges.
Haroon’s lawyer says his client is innocent and termed the investigation a sting operation carried out by an investigating officer motivated by career advancement.
“The FBI projected this as a high-level story, but these people don’t have the qualifications to kill a monkey,” said defense lawyer Idrees Ashraf.
Ashraf said that his client was only in contact with the investigating officer but never directly spoke with the co-accused, raising serious doubts about the nature of the investigation.
“According to the criminal complaint, the FBI agent communicated with Talha online and has said he was active in IS, but no proof of militant links has been provided,” Ashraf said.
One of the accused men, 19-year-old Canadian citizen Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, has been in U.S. custody since May 2016. He pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in October 2016, prosecutors said.
The third accused, 37-year old Russel Salic, was arrested in the Philippines in April, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
Prosecutors say Salic maintained a pro-Islamic State social media presence, told the undercover officer that he had been communicating with El Bahnasawy, and sent the officer about $423 from the Philippines to help pay for the attacks.
Haroon has been in custody for over a year without being charged. A bail plea will be filed for his release during Friday’s hearing, his attorney said.
“He was one of the best students in his school,” Haroon’s father said, adding that Talha moved to Pakistan in 2014 after finishing high school.
“He is naive and speaks from his heart. He is not the sort of boy who can commit such brutal acts,” Ashraf said.
U.S. prosecutors said they expect Haroon and Salic to be extradited to face the charges, which include conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and to support a terrorist organisation.
If convicted of the most serious charges, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.