Last December, the State Department issued a student visa to the Bangladeshi man arrested this week for trying to blow up the Federal Reserve building with what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb, the State Department confirmed today.
Twenty-one-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who was arrested Wednesday as part of an FBI sting operation, was reportedly in contact with al Qaeda before he entered the United States in January to attend Southeast Missouri State University, where he was studying cyber security. But the State Department's system to check visa applicants didn't find any reason to deny him entry, and the department issued his visa.
"The suspect did have a student visa to attend a legitimate academic program in the United States, for which he was qualified," State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said today. "Visa decisions are made in accordance with applicable law and department regulations. Each case is looked at on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of the information contained in U.S. government databases and in consultation with other government agencies."
The State Department has its own database for vetting visa applications, called the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), which keeps a list of those foreigners who should not be granted a visa. There are 39 million records in that system but Nafis wasn't one of them, Nuland said.
The State Department's visa vetting program last came into question after the failed terror plot in December 2009 by "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In that case, the plotter's father had warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was dangerous. In this case, the plotter's father has said he can't believe his son was an aspiring terrorist.
After Nafis entered the United States, the responsibility of monitoring his visa compliance was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, a State Department official said.
"Students are tracked in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security," the official said.
In fiscal year 2011, the State Department issued 476,000 type "F" student visas worldwide, 1,136 of them for Bangladeshis.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.