Federal authorities say a man from Virginia was attempting to help al-Qaeda operatives in a plot to bomb Metro stations. But from early indications, it doesn’t look like the alleged bomber got very far into his plans before law enforcement tracked him down, and the only plotting he did was in response to instructions from federal agents he thought were accomplices.

Farooque Ahmed, 34, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan, was arrested Wednesday. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Alexandria had indicted the Ashburn man, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempting to provide material support to help carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties at D.C.-area Metrorail stations.

Authorities say the public was never in danger because their agents had been monitoring the man’s activities throughout the conception and planning of the attacks.

Ahmed was discovered by agents to be seeking to obtain unspecified materials (presumably bomb-related). As a part of a sting operation that lasted from April through early this week, federal authorities posing as al-Qaeda operatives asked Ahmed to collect video and photographic surveillance footage  and draw diagrams of Metrorail stations. According to the indictment, Ahmed carried out all of those tasks and handed over the information to people he thought were affiliated with al-Qaeda. They were, in fact, undercover agents.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison.

Read the indictment here:

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