Raees Qazi and his brother Sheheryar are Pakistani-born siblings who lived in the Fort Lauderdale area since the early 2000s. The younger Raees was accused of traveling to New York to scope out targets to bomb; his brother was accused of supporting him.
The bomb itself, made from spare parts and Christmas lights, and possibly cribbed off an instruction manual downloaded from the internet titled "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," never got past the planning stages. But that didn't stop a federal judge on Thursday from throwing the book at the brothers, sentencing them to the maximum prison time possible for each.
In a plea deal with prosecutors, both pled guilty to conspiring to provide support to terrorists; Raees also pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group al-Qaida. Both were also charged with conspiring to assault two deputy U.S. marshals, because they had allegedly hit federal law enforcement officers while in custody since their 2012 arrests.
During the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom called the brothers "evil" and compared their plot to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, where two brothers set off a bomb with pressure cookers.
Yet a further look into the Qazi brothers' life prior to their arrest paints a more nuanced picture.
According to their brother, whom New Times interviewed in 2012, the Qazis' father was a baker who came to the United States from Pakistan decades ago. But it wasn't until the early 2000s, during Pakistan's descent into tribal conflict, that his sons followed to South Florida.
Raees reportedly attended Piper High School. He had been monitored since he was spotted praying at Miami International Airport by a security guard in 2010. When the guard inquired what he was doing, Raees admitted that he hated America's materialism and overt sexuality. The guard took down his name, reported what he saw, and authorities had kept their eye Raees him ever since.
He reportedly had trouble finding a job. He traveled to and returned from Pakistan. Between August and September of 2012, Raees was staying with his brother, a cab driver, and his wife, as well as their infant son.
Prosecutors alleged that Raees began researching terrorist plots and positing in online forums, and that his older brother Sheheryar supported him. Taped phone conversations, translated from Pashto, suggest that 35-year-old Sheheryar's wife wanted Raees to get a job and may have known he wanted to go to commit a terrorist act:
"Even if he is going for Jihad," Sheheryar's wife is recorded saying to her husband about Raees. "Even so, he needs to do some hard work. He should not ask others for help... One should pay for one's own expenses."
"Tell him, 'You do a job'," she also says, according to court filings. "Earning here is written into his destiny by God."
According to another of the recorded phone calls, Sheheryar told his wife of a letter Raees showed him on his computer that talked about Osama bin Laden "uniting a Muslim army under one flag to wage Islamic war."
"In a way, he has given up on himself," Sheheryar tells his wife. "That is why he does not try to get... a permanent job so that, 'I don't get too tied up with something else and forget about God's work.'"
Prosecutors pointed to the comments made about not getting a permanent job and the line "God's work" as evidence that Raees was planning to do something that would harm or kill Americans. They also say that Sheheryar and his wife knew of Raees' plans to commit a terrorist act and that Sheheryar helped him financially to do so.
Federal prosecutors said the brothers' planned to use a "weapon of mass destruction" to blow up New York City landmarks. Raees allegedly rode his bike around New York looking for places to plant a bomb but had no money and returned to Oakland Park.
They seized what they said were bomb components — high-grade peroxide, remote-control car parts, Christmas lights, and batteries.
Prosecutors said Raees had read the al-Qaeda online magazine Inspire, and an article titled "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
The brothers pleaded guilty in 2014.
On Thursday, Bloom sentenced Raees to 35 years in prison and Sheheryar to 20 years.
“You are a terrorist. Evil in nature and evil in your deeds,” Bloom said to Raees. “You chose to engage in conduct that can only be described as evil and reprehensible.”