Taxicabs speed down Broadway near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 42nd street in New York's Times Square. A New York man who talked about wanting to throw a grenade in Times Square has been arrested and charged on weapons-related charges. Picture: Kathy Willens/AP

New York - A New York man was charged with illegally acquiring firearms as part of a plan to attack Times Square, one of midtown Manhattan's most crowded crossroads, federal officials said on Friday.

Ashiqul Alam, 22, from Jackson Heights in the city's Queens borough, was arrested on Thursday after receiving two Glock 19 nine millimeter semi-automatic pistols with their serial numbers stripped off from undercover law enforcement officers, according to a complaint unsealed on Friday in Brooklyn federal court.

During meetings with an undercover federal agent, Alam expressed support for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York as well as the militant group Islamic State, according to the complaint. He also discussed using an explosive suicide vest in an attack.

"As alleged, Ashiqul Alam bought illegal weapons as part of his plan to kill law enforcement officers and civilians in a terrorist attack on Times Square,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, whose office brought the charges, said in a statement.

Alam is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn later on Friday.

With its millions of visitors each year, Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, has been targeted by at least two bombers in recent years, despite its heavily-fortified police presence.

On May 1, 2010, police thwarted an attempted car bomb in Times Square, defusing a crude device made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.

A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to the plot, admitting that he had received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that the group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had funded the plot. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2017, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel near Times Square. The man, Akayed Ullah, was convicted of six criminal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and support of a terrorist organization.

On Friday morning, it was business as usual in Times Square, with a bustle of people on their way to work and tourists beginning to stream into the area.

Kate Fan, a 28-year-old charity worker visiting from her home in Guangzhou, China, said that she heard about the incident but still felt safe.

“We hear a lot of stories about New York being unsafe, but we feel like people sometimes exaggerate safety issues,” she said.

Reuters