Suspects ‘wanted to engage in terrorist attacks’
Arrests follow FBI sting operation (Adds reaction, details)
By Mark Egan
NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters - Four men were arrested on Wednesday in a suspected plot to bomb a synagogue and Jewish community center in New York City and to shoot at military planes with stinger missiles, law enforcement officials said.
A joint release from the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the FBI and the New York Police Department said the suspects were charged with plotting to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of New York’s Bronx borough.
The men were also charged with plotting to shoot military planes located at New York’s 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 (96 km) 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 U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in the statement.
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 a sting operation run by the FBI and other agencies, the complaint said.
"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," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a separate statement.
New York has remained on high alert for another attack since the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001 that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed almost 3,000 people.
Last June, Cromitie 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 in the war there and in Pakistan by American forces, the complaint said.
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. Last July, he told the informant he wanted to join Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group Washington designates as a terrorist organization, to "do jihad," according to the complaint.
In October, Cromitie and the other men began a series of meetings at a house in Newburgh to plot their attacks, the complaint said. In April, 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, the complaint said.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said the suspects planned to undertake their attack on Wednesday using a car bomb outside the synagogue.
"Tonight was the night the attacks were being carried out," King told CNN.
He said the four men were born in the United States and were all Muslim, one born Muslim of Afghan descent and three who converted in prison.
The defendants are expected to appear in White Plains, New York, federal 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, authorities said. (Reporting by Mark Egan; Editing by Peter Cooney)