Jihad plot foiled in New York - bombings of synagouges and shooting down of military planes were planned
May 21, 2009
Suspects in NY jihad plot due in court* Suspects wanted to commit holy war, police say
* NY Jews shocked to be target of purported attack
* Mayor, police commissioner greet worshipers
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) - New York's mayor and police chief sought to calm Jewish worshipers on Thursday, the morning after authorities said they foiled a plot to blow up two synagogues and simultaneously shoot down military planes.
Four men arrested in the suspected plot were due to appear in court later in the day in White Plains, New York. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said all four had criminal records and did not appear to be part of al Qaeda.
As they greeted worshipers at one of the targeted synagogues Thursday morning, Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg conveyed calm following the latest threat to New York City, which has been on high alert for another attack since the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks of 2001.
The FBI and New York police arrested the four Muslim men on Wednesday night after they planted what they believed to be explosives in two cars -- one parked outside each synagogue -- and planned to head to an air base with what they thought was an activated stinger surface-to-air missile.
But the explosives were inert and the stinger deactivated as the four suspects had been infiltrated by an FBI informant who provided the fake weapons.
"They stated that they wanted to commit jihad," Kelly told reporters, using a term that can mean holy war. "They were disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed. They made the statement that if Jews were killed in this attack that would be all right."
Worshipers at the Riverdale Jewish Center, an orthodox synagogue that had an early morning service, were shocked.
"It's just unbelievable, unbelievable, that it's here in this community," said Rose Spindler, who said she was a Holocaust survivor. "They should let us live. How can they come here and do that to innocent people? We were very lucky."
David Winter, the executive director of the Riverdale Jewish Center, said the possibility of an attack was "always in the back of your mind."
"We were shocked. The shock and being floored is followed by relief," Winter said.
The other target, the Riverdale Temple, is a reform synagogue.
The suspects were due in court on the day U.S. President Barack Obama was to speak on national security and outline his strategy for closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay where terrorism suspects are being held. [ID:nN20544607]
None of the four suspects had any known connection to al Qaeda, Kelly said. One of them was of Haitian descent and the other three American-born.
"It speaks to our concern about home-grown terrorism ... that in many ways is the most difficult to address," Kelly said.
The two synagogues are in a wealthy area of the Bronx, just north of Manhattan and near a highway that leads upstate toward New York's Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh, where authorities said the men planned to shoot down planes with surface-to-air guided missiles.
The suspects were identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen. Kelly called Cromitie, 53, the leader of the group. Two of the others were aged 29 and 33. Kelly said they may have converted to an extreme vision of Islam in jail, he said.
Each man is charged with one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and one count of conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, which also carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
All the men lived in Newburgh, about 60 miles (100 km) north of New York City, authorities said.
According to investigators, Cromitie said if he died a martyr, he would go to "paradise" and that he was interested in doing "something to America," the complaint said.
In October, Cromitie and the other men began a series of meetings at a house in Newburgh to plot their attacks and just last month they selected the synagogue and Jewish community center and conducted surveillance, it said.
The complaint said they bought an arsenal in May that included improvised explosive devices containing inert C-4 plastic explosives and a surface-to-air guided missile provided by the FBI that was not capable of being fired.
In November, according to the complaint, Cromitie said, "The best target (the World Trade Center) was hit already" and "I would like to get (destroy) a synagogue." (Additional reporting by Mark Egan; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trott) http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN21196807
Terror plot timeline: How the investigation unfolded
APRIL 28: The four plotters meet at a house in Newburgh with the confidential witness to advance their plans. MAY 1: Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Payen go to a cell phone store in Newburgh to buy four new cell phones for their plot.
MAY 6: Cromitie, David Williams and Payen go with the confidential witness to Stamford, Conn., to secure what they believe to be a guided missle system and three improvised explosive devices containing C-4 explosives and bring them back to Newburgh. The Stinger guided missle system was not capable of being fired and the C-4 explosives were inert.
MAY 8: The plotters meet at a Newburgh storage facility to inspect the missle system and to review how to operate it.
MAY 20: Authorities arrest the four.
The DoJ press release is posted at http://media.nbcbayarea.com/documents/Cromitie+et+al++Arrests+PR+(2).pdf [attached]
FBI, NYPD Arrest 4 in Alleged Plot to Bomb NY Synagogues
The suspects also discussed trying to shoot down military planes at Stewart Airport
By JONATHAN DIENST
Updated 10:58 PM EDT, Wed, May 20, 2009
FBI officials and the NYPD arrested four men in connection with plots to bomb Jewish temples.
Four New York City men were arrested Wednesday in connection with an alleged plot to blow up New York City synagogues and other city locations, WNBC's Jonathan Dienst was first to learn.
Raids by the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force in the Bronx captured the suspected ringleader and three followers in what law enforcement sources are calling a homegrown terrorist plot.Investigators stress the suspects' meetings had been infiltrated early on and there was "no chance" the alleged plot could succeed.
Investigators said several of the suspects are Muslims who allegedly talked about destroying two Jewish temples, including at least one in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
Prosecutors also said the men discussed trying to shoot down military planes at Stewart Airport using stinger missiles.
The four suspects were identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen.
The men ordered and accepted delivery of materials they believed were bomb-making ingredients, authorities said. But investigators said they made sure the materials the suspects received were inert. Officials tell WNBC they moved in now so the alleged plot could not progress any further.
The four men are in custody and are expected to be arraigned Thursday in White Plains federal court on terrorism-related counts.
"I have spoken to both the New York office of the FBI and Commissioner Kelly and I want to commend them both on an outstanding job. They have told me they have been monitoring this group for sometime and that the men arrested did not have any connection to other terrorists," Sen. Charles Schumer said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also offered his thanks to the NYPD and FBI.
"This latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism," Bloomberg said.
The motives behind the alleged plot are not yet known, but authorities said that Cromitie was apparently upset over the war in Afghanistan.
Since the 9/11 attacks, authorities have arrested suspects in a number of alleged plots against area targets including the Fort Dix New Jersey military base, John F. Kennedy Airport, the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Last December, a New Jersey jury convicted five foreign-born men, living and working in the area for years, of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers at Ft. Dix. Three were brothers from Yugoslavia; the others were born in Jordan and Turkey. The FBI arrested them after 15 months of surveillance after they tried to buy AK-47s and M-16s. The men had claimed they were set up by an unscrupulous informant.
In June 2007, four alleged Muslim extremists -- a 63-year-old former JFK airport cargo employee living in Brooklyn and three others from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago -- were charged with plotting to blow up fuel lines and gas tanks at the busy Queens airport. All four have pleaded not guilty.
Two men were convicted of plotting to bomb the Herald Square station including a Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj. He is serving 30 years in federal prison for conspiring to blow up the subway station on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention in nearby Madison Square Garden.
Al Qaeda operative Iman Faris of Columbus, Ohio, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Kashmir, is serving 20 years in federal prison for planning to destroy American targets including the Brooklyn Bridge, which he cased in 2002 and 2003.
Others have been charged with material support for terrorism. Two American born Muslim converts, Bronx jazz musician and martial arts expert Tarik Shah and emergency room doctor Rafiq Sabir, who had worked in New York and Florida, were convicted in 2007 of conspiring to provide material support to Al Qaeda.
Queens resident Mohammed Junaid Babar, who immigrated to the U.S., pleaded guilty in 2004 to supporting Al Qaeda and has since testified against terror suspects who plotted attacks in London.
---------------------------------NYC terror case latest of many homegrown plots
By MICHAEL HILL and JIM FITZGERALD
NEWBURGH, N.Y. (AP) The four men were ex-convicts who envisioned themselves as holy warriors, ambitious enough to concoct a plot to blow up synagogues and military planes, authorities said.
But they were amateurs every step of the way. They had trouble finding guns and bought cameras at Wal-Mart to photograph their targets. One was a convicted purse snatcher, another smoked marijuana the day the plot was to be carried out.
Muslims fueled by hatred of America and Jews, they spent months scouting targets and securing what they thought was a surface-to-air missile system and powerful explosives all under the watch of an FBI informant.
The four were arrested late Wednesday outside a synagogue in the Bronx, following a long line of homegrown, headline-making terror plots since Sept. 11 that never came close to reality because the FBI inserted itself in the earliest stages.
The bombs they planted outside two synagogues Wednesday were useless, packed with inert explosives supplied by the FBI instead of the Pakistani terrorist group they had pledged to support, according to a criminal complaint.
Still, officials see the case as a vivid reminder of risks the U.S. faces from homegrown terrorists.
"It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," assistant U.S. attorney Eric Snyder said. "These are extremely violent men."
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen were calm as they appeared in court Thursday with their hands shackled, to answer charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles. They did not enter pleas and were held without bail; they face life in prison if convicted.
Besides destroying the two synagogues in the heavily Jewish Riverdale section of the Bronx, they intended to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, about 50 miles north of New York City, prosecutors said.
Relatives said the defendants were down-on-their-luck men who worked at places like Wal-Mart, a landscaping company and a warehouse when they weren't behind bars. Payen's lawyer said he was "intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia. Marilyn Reader said he has "a very low borderline" IQ.
David Williams' relatives were floored by the allegations against a man they knew as a good father to his 7-year-old daughter and newborn son.
"You don't raise your children to be terrorists," said Aahkiyaah Cummings, his aunt. "I don't know that guy that was arrested."
Just four years ago, Williams, now 28, told a parole board that prison was a wake-up call after his conviction on drug and weapons charges drugs he said he sold because was making only $150 a week in his job.
Onta Williams, 32, and Cromitie have also served prison sentences for drug convictions Cromitie said in court he had used marijuana as recently as Wednesday. He said he was 55, though law enforcement records give his age as 44.
Payen, 27, did time for attempted assault in 2002, he and others fired a BB gun out an SUV window, hitting two people in the head. He snatched purses from two women later the same day, said state Division of Parole spokeswoman Heather Groll.
Payen appears to be a Haitian citizen, while the other three are Americans. The Williamses are not related.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he believed the defendants knew each other from their time behind bars. Relatives said Payen, David Williams and Onta (pronounced ON-tay) Williams were introduced to Islam in prison a phenomenon present in prisons around the country in recent years.
"The Onta I know wouldn't do something like this, but the new Onta, yeah," said Richard Williams, an uncle. "He wasn't raised this way. All this happened when he became a Muslim in prison."
He said his nephew, who loaded tractor-trailer trucks at a warehouse, had been shaken by his mother's death in 2006 and a separation from his wife. She has custody of his three children.
Payen was apparently staying in a rundown house that neighbors say was known as a home for parolees. Penniless and jobless, he had been fighting deportation and seeking custody of his 3-year-old son, said Hamin Rashada, an assistant imam at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque, where authorities say the informant first met Cromitie in June 2008.
The mosque is led by a state prison chaplain who converted to Islam years ago when he himself was an inmate, and has since become a respected community leader, offering support to other ex-convicts.
Cromitie was burning with anger about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, where his parents had lived before he was born, according to the criminal complaint. He told the informant he was interested in jihad and "doing something to America" and was crestfallen that "the best target (the World Trade Center) was hit already," the complaint said.
In the same conversation, Cromitie said: "I hate those mother-------, those f------ Jewish b------ .... I would like to get (destroy) a synagogue," according to the complaint.
In one conversation, Cromitie said how he longed to shoot Jews in the head as they walked on the street near a synagogue, the informant said. In another conversation with the informant, Onta Williams said that the U.S. military is killing Muslims "so if we kill them here with IEDs and Stingers, it is equal," according to court papers.
A woman who answered the phone at a Bronx listing for several of Cromitie's relatives said she didn't want to speak about him and hung up. No one answered the door at his Newburgh address, but neighbor Luis Pena said Cromitie was a real nice guy.
The complaint portrays Cromitie as the instigator of the conspiracy, telling the informant last July that he wanted to join Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terrorist group with which the informant claimed to be involved. Authorities say Jaish set up training camps in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and several senior operatives were close to Osama bin Laden.
By December, Cromitie was asking the informant to supply explosives and surface-to-air missiles, in one of many discussions secretly recorded in a Newburgh home the FBI had outfitted with video and audio equipment, the complaint said.
The suspects obtained the weapons not knowing they were disabled earlier this month, according to the complaint.
But much of their scheme was more pedestrian, according to the complaint. The alleged plot fit a pattern of schemes involving ragtag groups of aspiring terrorists infiltrated and brought down before they could do any harm.
The plots include the "Virginia jihad network," a group of men accused in 2003 that trained with paintball games In Los Angeles, four men including the founder of a radical Islamic prison group were charged in 2005 with conspiring to attack synagogues and other targets. And seven men in Miami were accused of planning to blow up the Sears Tower. Two of those men were later acquitted.
In New York, authorities have broken up plots to bomb gas pipelines near Kennedy Airport and the tunnels underneath the Hudson River.
Some have criticized informants' roles in such cases, saying they egged on and ensnared suspects who weren't dangerous.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett in Washington, Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y., George Walsh in Albany, N.Y., and Tom Hays, Tom McElroy and Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.
Muslims arrested in FBI sting for planting bombs' in New York
Four Muslims were arrested in New York as they allegedly planted what they thought were car bombs outside two synagogues in the Bronx.
The home-grown terror plot was thwarted by an elaborate FBI sting operation that supplied the would-be terrorists with fake plastic explosives and a deactivated Stinger anti-aircraft missile.
The four suspects, described as "petty criminals" who met in jail, were charged with plotting to blow up the synagogues and shoot down a military aircraft at an airport in upstate New York.
Police tracked their plans for a year through an informer and pounced as they place the dud bombs outside the synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
"No one was at risk. This was a tightly controlled operation. But these individuals did in fact place these bombs or what they thought to be bombs in front of buildings," Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner, said.
"They stated that they wanted to commit jihad. They were disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims would be killed. They made the statement that if Jews were killed in this attack, that would be all right."
Officials said that the men fell foul of "trip wires" the FBI had set up by recruiting informers at mosques and other key locations after the al-Qaeda attacks on America in 2001.
Three of the suspects were American citizens including one of Afghan descent and the fourth was a Haitian immigrant. Some of them converted to Islam in prison. All used Arabic aliases.
The alleged ringleader is James Cromitie, 53, or "Abdul Rahman," the son of an Afghan immigrant father and an African-American mother.
A shelf-stacker at a Wal-Mart supermarket, Mr Cromitie has a criminal record of 27 previous arrests and has been to jail three times on drug charges.
The other alleged conspirators were David Williams, known as "Daoud"; Onta Williams, or "Hamza", who served a year in prison for attempted assault; and Laguerre Payen, a Haitian who uses the name "Amin" and served three months in prison on drug charges.
All four live in Newburgh, about 70 miles north of New York City.
According to court papers, Mr Cromitie was angry at the US war in Afghanistan, where his parents lived before he was born. He allegedly said he wanted to do "something to America" but complained that "the best target [the World Trade Centre] was already hit".
Prosecutors say that Mr Cromitie approached a man at a Newburgh mosque whom he believed to be connected to the outlawed Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The man was an informer who had been co-operating with the FBI since being sentenced to five years' probation for fraud in 2002.
At a meeting in April 2008, Mr Cromitie allegedly told the informer of his plans to bomb synagogues and shoot down military aircraft at the Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh.
The informer procured a deactivated Stinger missile and sold the alleged plotters a cache of military-grade C4 explosives that had been doctored by FBI experts to render them inert.
Police reportedly watched the group on a live video stream as they planted what they thought were explosives at around 9pm local time on Wednesday.
Mr Cromitie, with the informant acting as his driver, allegedly placed a satchel containing the dud explosive in a Pontiac car outside the Riverdale Temple on Independence Avenue and then placed more inert explosives in a 4x4 vehicle outside the Riverdale Jewish Centre.
As they tried to leave police blocked their 4x4, broke a tinted back window to see inside and arrested them.