Four arrested over plot to blow up New York synagogue
May 21, 2009
Four men have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to bomb a synagogue in New York and to destroy military aircraft with Stinger missiles.
The suspects were charged with plotting to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, according to a joint statement released by the acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the FBI and the New York Police Department.
The men were also charged with plotting to attack aircraft at the Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles, the statement said. Newburgh is about 60 miles (98km) north of New York City.
"The defendants wanted to engage in terrorist attacks. They selected targets and sought the weapons necessary to carry out their plans," Lev Dassin, acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said.
The four men, identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, were arrested after buying an inactive missile and inert explosives in an undercover operation run by the FBI and other agencies.
"While the bombs these terrorists attempted to plant tonight were – unbeknownst to them – fake, this latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real," Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, said.
New York has remained on high alert for another attack since the attacks of September 11, 2001 that destroyed the World Trade Centre and killed almost 3,000 people.
David Paterson, the Governor of New York, said that three of the men were US citizens and one was of Haitian descent. "This case clearly illustrates that the threat of terrorism in New York is persistent ... [and] affects all of our communities, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity," Mr Paterson said.
In June last year, Mr Cromitie allegedly told an FBI informant in Newburgh that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset about the number of Muslims being killed there and in Pakistan by American forces.
He said that if he died a martyr, he would go to paradise and that he was interested in doing "something to America". In July last year, he told the informant that he wanted to join Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group designated by Washington as a terrorist organisation, to "do jihad", according to the statement.
In October, Cromitie and the other men began a series of meetings at a house in Newburgh to plot their attacks and last month they selected the synagogue and Jewish community centre and conducted surveillance.
The statement said that the men bought an arsenal 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.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said that the suspects planned to undertake their attack last night using a car bomb outside the synagogue.
"Tonight was the night the attacks were being carried out," Mr King told CNN. He said that the four men were all Muslim, one a born Muslim of Afghan descent and three who converted in prison.
The statement quoted from video and audio recordings made by the FBI during meetings between the men and the informant.
During one trip in November to Philadelphia to attend a Muslim Alliance of North America meeting, Cromitie allegedly said that "the best target [the World Trade Centre] was hit already" and "I would like to get [destroy] a synagogue".
On April 28, Onta Williams told the informant that the US military "are killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries so, if we kill them here ... it is equal". Williams said that if Jewish people were killed in the attack, "it does not matter", the statement said.
The defendants are expected to appear in court on Thursday.
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 live in Newburgh, the authorities said.