"I had intentions to commit a violent jihadist act," Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis told the judge. "I deeply and sincerely regret my involvement in this case," he said in a soft voice.
The 21-year-old faces a possible life term at sentencing on May 30.
He was charged in October with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. Investigators said in court papers that he came to the U.S. bent on jihad and worked out the specifics of a plot when he arrived.
Investigators said Nafis contacted a government informant, who then went to federal authorities. They said he selected his target, drove a van loaded with dummy explosives to the door of the bank and tried to set off the bomb from a hotel room using a cell phone he thought had been rigged as a detonator. But it was all fake.
He also believed he had the blessing of al-Qaida and was acting on behalf of it, but he has no known ties to the terrorist group, according to federal officials.
During the investigation, Nafis spoke of his admiration for Osama bin Laden, talked of writing an article about his plot for an al-Qaida-affiliated magazine and said he would be willing to be a martyr but preferred to go home to his family after carrying out the attack, authorities said.
And he also talked about wanting to kill President Barack Obama and bomb the New York Stock Exchange, officials said.
But family members in Dhaka said they did not believe he was capable of such actions.
"My son couldn't have done it," Quazi Ahsanullah said after his son's arrest.
Nafis, who was working as a busboy at a Manhattan restaurant at the time of his arrest, came to the U.S. as a student. His parents said he was terrible in school in Bangladesh and that he persuaded them to send him to study in the U.S. as a way of improving his job prospects. They don't believe he was planning an attack.
He moved to Missouri, where he studied cybersecurity at Southeast Missouri State University. He also became vice president of the school's Muslim Student Association and began attending a mosque. But he withdrew after one semester and requested over the summer that his records be transferred to a school in Brooklyn. The university declined to identify which school.
The Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan, located at 33 Liberty St., is one of 12 branches around the country that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, make up the Federal Reserve System that serves as the central bank of the United States. It sets interest rates.
The Federal Reserve is one of the most fortified buildings in the city, smack in the middle of a massive security effort headed by the New York Police Department where a network of thousands of private and police cameras watch for suspicious activity.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Get Eyewitness News Delivered