Talha Haroon, 19, was arrested in Pakistan in 2016 after US 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 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 the lawyer, Idrees Ashraf.
Ashraf said 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 added.
One of the accused men, 19-year-old Canadian citizen Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, has been in US 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 US Attorney Joon Kim.
Prosecutors say Salic maintained a pro-Daesh social media presence, told the undercover officer 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 more than a year without being charged. A bail plea will be filed for his release at the hearing once a date is set, 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,” Ashraf added. “He is not the sort of boy who can commit such brutal acts.”
US 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 organization.
If convicted of the most serious charges, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.