WHITE PLAINS, New York (Reuters) - Four Muslim men suspected of a plot to blow up two New York synagogues and shoot down military planes were ordered to remain in jail on Thursday in what police called homegrown terrorism.
The case has shaken a wealthy neighborhood of New York City’s Bronx borough where police said the men, who had been watched for nearly a year in a sting operation, planted what they thought were bombs in cars parked outside each synagogue.
The suspects then intended to shoot down planes with guided surface-to-air missiles, but the explosives and the missiles, which had been sold to the accused plotters by an FBI informant, were deactivated, police said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Smith ordered James Cromitie, 55, to remain in jail along with David Williams, 28, Onta Williams, 32, and Haitian citizen Laguerre Payen, 27.
“These are extremely violent men. They pose an extreme risk of danger to the community,” prosecutor Eric Snyder told the court. “These people were eager to bring death to Jews.”
Defense lawyer Marilyn Reader told the court that her client, Payen, who appeared in court separately from the other men and with a bandage on his head, suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and could not read or write in English.
Police said the suspects had criminal records and may have converted to a radical version of Islam while in prison. They had no known links to al Qaeda, police said.
“I’m worried about the potential backlash to the Muslim community,” said Aliya Latif, civil rights director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York.
“Questioning the loyalty of law-abiding American-Muslims is fodder for anti-U.S. forces erroneously coupling religion and terror,” she said after a news conference.
It was the latest security case to rattle the United States since the hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
Authorities said Cromitie was the leader of the group and he chose synagogues after having said: “The best target (the World Trade Center) was hit already.”
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said of the case: “It speaks to our concern about homegrown terrorism ... that in many ways is the most difficult to address.”
The FBI and New York police arrested the men on Wednesday night after they planted 37 pounds (17 kg) of inert C-4 explosives in each of two cars parked outside each synagogue.
From there they had planned to travel about 60 miles upstate to an Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in their hometown of Newburgh to shoot down planes with the deactivated stinger missile. For a story on Newburgh, click on
“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.”
Each was 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.
Worshipers at the Riverdale Jewish Center, an orthodox synagogue that was one of the targets of the suspected plot, 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.”
Additional reporting by Nick Olivari; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Paul Simao