Suspected terrorists stopped for a bite
FBI prepared to make arrests in Newburgh
By Adam Bosch | May 23, 2009
NEWBURGH — Federal agents were going to spring their trap in Newburgh, but four aspiring jihadists didn't want to commit terrorism on an empty stomach.
The four accused conspirators — James Cromitie, 44; Laguerre Payen, 27; David Williams, 28; and Onta Williams, 32 — didn't rush their plot Wednesday to blow up two Bronx synagogues and military aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, according to an investigator familiar with the case.
Instead, the men ate an early afternoon meal at one of their Newburgh apartments, spent some time praying and then paused to eat again at the Thruway's Ramapo rest stop.
Only then did they head to the Bronx to plant what they believed to be explosives outside two synagogues, where they were arrested about 9:30 p.m.
The FBI initially wanted to sting the men in Newburgh. Agents planned to let the accused terror team set up somewhere near the Air National Guard Base at Stewart International Airport before moving in to arrest them.
The men planned to use a Stinger ground-to-air missile to blow a military aircraft out of the sky, according to court records. It's unclear whether the suspects' delay forced authorities to change their plans.
"They wanted to arrest the men when they got back up here (to Newburgh)," the investigator said. "We were set up much earlier, and they got the suspects six hours later than expected."
The investigator, who spoke anonymously because he's not authorized to talk to the press, said the conspirators' lack of urgency was another sign of their ineptitude.
They plotted an elaborate scheme but lacked the precision to carry it out on schedule.
In other terror-plot revelations, the Times Herald-Record has learned that:
# The four men were talking openly in a Newburgh mosque about their desire to commit jihad when a federal informant, a sporadic attendee of the mosque, overheard them. He then took the information to the feds.
The informant, Sahed "Malik" Hussain, helped the FBI infiltrate accused terrorists operating at a storefront mosque in Albany in 2004.
Hussain was recruited by the feds after pleading guilty in April 2003 to scheming to help illegal immigrants get driver's licenses.
The investigator said the government would now likely pay and relocate Hussain.
# Federal agents this week searched a Beacon apartment where Onta Williams listed an address. It's unclear what agents recovered.
# Four Newburgh men conjured the plot, but the FBI provided the money. Agents gave Hussain money to help the would-be terrorists buy what they believed to be explosives and missile systems.
The FBI also provided two cars that the terror suspects parked outside the Bronx synagogues days before the plan was to be executed. The men stashed inert explosive devices inside the cars' trunks just before federal agents arrested them.
# It's unclear whether the four men had been monitoring the Air National Guard Base to track when military planes landed and took off, but sources said C-5A traffic was heavy on Wednesday, the planned day of the attack.
Eric Durr, spokesman for the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said military air traffic at Stewart was normal but would not say how many planes came and left.
# One of the suspects, Payen, was ordered to be deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the agency could not move him because of unspecified circumstances.
"Based upon the ruling of the immigration judge, we are unable to remove Mr. Payen," ICE spokesman Louis Martinez said. "He has been on an order of supervision and reports to ICE regularly."
Martinez did not say how often Payen checked in.
Reporters Chris McKenna and Michael Randall contributed to this story.