NEW YORK — A Canadian citizen who’s admitted plotting to attack Times Square, the subway and other New York targets in the name of the Islamic State group has struggled with drug addiction and unspecified psychological problems, according to court papers made public this week.
Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy has “a long history of drug use, drug treatment and relapse,” his lawyers wrote in a letter filed under seal earlier this year.
Another letter from 2016 complaining about conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — a federal jail in Manhattan known for housing high-profile defendants in other terrorism cases — said the 19-year-old El Bahnasawy “suffers from significant mental health issues.”
The defendant, who was born in Kuwait, “has been held in near isolation in the special housing unit in the MCC, where he is deteriorating,” the letter said.
El Bahnasawy eventually was moved from the high-security unit to general population, but “was offered drugs by another inmate and relapsed,” a third filing said. A drug test came back positive for Suboxone, a prescription drug medication used in the treatment of addiction to opiates, it added.
The defense claims add a layer of complexity to a case that the government kept secret until Friday, when the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan announced that El Bahnasawy had been arrested in New Jersey in May 2016 before the plot could get beyond the planning stages. Prosecutors declined comment on Tuesday.
The investigation involved an FBI undercover agent posing as an Islamic extremist and communicated with El Bahnasawy by smartphone, according to criminal complaints. The papers say he at one point sent the undercover agent an image of Times Square with a smartphone message saying, “We seriously need to car bomb times square. Look at these crowds of people!”
The probe also resulted in the arrest of U.S. citizen Talha Haroon in Pakistan and a third co-defendant, Russell Salic, in the Philippines. Both men, who have denied being part of a terror plot, remain overseas pending extradition.
Prosecutors asked the court last year to keep El Bahnasawy’s case under seal so not to compromise “the FBI’s ongoing investigation of an imminent terrorist threat to New York City.” At the time, authorities were worried that news of an arrest would spook Haroon, who they still hoped would follow through on talk of going to New York so they could arrest him there.
Also kept secret was El Bahnasawy’s guilty plea to conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and other charges in October 2016, when he told a judge, “I agreed with others to carry out an attack in Times Square, to support ISIL, specifically, we agreed to set off a bomb in Times Square,” according to a transcript.
Before the plea, the judge had asked him about his physical and mental health.
“I feel well,” he said.