That al Qaeda commander is believed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a top al Qaeda officer who was captured in Pakistan earlier this year. Sources told ABCNEWS that Mohammed directed Faris to help plan a series of potentially devastating attacks in New York and Washington.
Mohammed gave U.S. officials useful information against Faris, and Mohammed is now providing officials with specific information about al Qaeda operations in the United States, sources said.
The indictment also claims Faris was involved in moving money into the United States to fund terrorist activities.
Brooklyn Bridge Targeted
Faris was instructed to get equipment including "gas cutters" to be used to cut suspension wires on the Brooklyn Bridge, a famed New York landmark. According to the indictment, he approached an acquaintance about getting the tools, did Internet research on them and was also supposed to get tools to damage train tracks and cause a derailment.
Faris was instructed to refer to the gas cutters in code as "gas stations" and to the tools intended for the train tracks as "mechanic's shops."
Authorities also believe Faris was interested in striking the train system in the Washington vicinity, and may have included D.C.'s Metro system.
In late 2002, Faris traveled to New York to examine possible targets, but concluded the bridge plan was unworkable, Ashcroft said. He sent a coded message that "the weather is too hot," meaning increased security and the bridge's design were problematic.
Faris was also told to spend hours studying ultralight aircraft for use in a possible attack. In 2000, he helped obtain 2,000 sleeping bags for use by al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, officials say. He also allegedly helped al Qaeda members obtain cell phones and change plane tickets.
Faris also discussed driving an explosives-laden truck onto an airport tarmac to blow up aircraft on the ground. He reportedly had several previous run-ins with the law, including a citation after he flipped his vehicle on a highway ramp and a drunken driving arrest.
Targeting ‘Sleeper Cells’
The Ohio resident pleaded guilty to the terror charges on May 1, but the indictment was sealed while law enforcement agents pursued related leads, Ashcroft said. He is being held in the Alexandria Detention Center.
The guilty plea represents another step in the attempt to uncover terrorist sleeper cells in the United States. In May, six men living in the Buffalo, N.Y., suburb of Lackawanna pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism.
The men admitted attending an al Qaeda terror training camp in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001.
The so-called Lackawanna Six — all of Yemeni descent — face sentences of between seven and 10 years in prison.
As evidence of ongoing success in the fight against terrorists operating in the United States, Ashcroft also cited the convictions of two alleged al Qaeda members in Detroit, and of a Seattle man accused of helping the Taliban.
ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas in Washington, George Zonders in Columbus, Ohio, and Jason Ryan in New York contributed to this report.