ST. LOUIS — A former college classmate of a Bangladeshi man accused in a foiled car bomb attack on New York City's Federal Reserve said Thursday the allegations don't square with the peace-talking student he befriended and routinely gave rides home from class.
Jim Dow said he was shocked to learn of 21-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis' arrest Wednesday during an FBI terror sting in New York, just a few months after Nafis left Southeast Missouri State University after attending only the spring semester. Nafis shared a physics class with Dow.
A law enforcement official, who talked to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, said Nafis is believed to have initially considered targeting President Barack Obama and the New York Stock Exchange before settling on attacking the Federal Reserve. That plot unraveled when Nafis wasn't aware the 1,000-pound bomb he tried to detonate was bogus.
Investigators said Nafis admired Osama bin Laden. He arrived in the U.S. in January on a student visa and attended Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, a 38,000-resident Mississippi River city about 100 miles south of St. Louis.
Remembering Nafis as "a little on the shy side," Dow said Nafis seldom interacted with other students outside of the physics class they took.
"He was actually a pretty good student — he understood the topic pretty well," Dow, 54, told the AP on Thursday.
Nafis, who Dow gave rides home twice a week, never intimated or displayed violent tendencies or thoughts, instead coming across as "real religious," Dow said.
Since Nafis' arrest, "what really shocked me the most was he had specifically spoken to me about true Muslims not believing in violence," said Dow, an Army veteran who's now a junior studying sustainable energy management. "He told me he didn't really believe bin Laden was involved in (the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks) because he said bin Laden was a religious man, and a religious man wouldn't have done something like that.
"I do know he thought really highly of Osama bin Laden, and that he told me he didn't think bin Laden would have done something like that" attack on the Pentagon and New York's twin towers.
Nafis, who gave Dow a copy of the Quran and asked that he read and respect that holy book, "told me things like that Muslims believed that Jesus was a prophet the same as (Islam's) Muhammed. And that he just didn't believe Jesus' words had been passed down correctly, but Muhammed's were," Dow said.
Nafis "never said anything that was angry or mean. He didn't rant or rave or say crazy stuff," Dow said. "I liked him."
When Dow no longer saw Nafis on the 11,700-student campus after the spring semester, he assumed Nafis returned to Bangladesh because "he talked like he was homesick." The university said in a statement Thursday it transferred Nafis' academic records over the summer to an unspecified Brooklyn, N.Y., institution.
Dow said he was listening to a national TV network's news program Wednesday night while working on his computer when he heard a reference to the alleged terror plot targeting New York's Federal Reserve, glanced up and saw a courtroom sketch of the suspect.
"It went through my head that, 'Gee, that looks like Quazi,'" said Dow, whose suspicions were confirmed when the report mentioned Nafis attended Southeast Missouri State, then showed a photograph of him.
"I'm shocked — I don't know what more to say about that," Dow added. "I didn't just meet this kid a couple of times. We talked quite a bit, sir, and this doesn't seem to be in character."
Southeast Missouri State's president, Kenneth Dobbins, wrote in a letter Thursday to the university's faculty, staff and students that the FBI has assured him that no one at the school was in danger and that "Southeast was never a target of terrorism."