NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Islamist militants were found guilty on Monday by a federal jury of plotting to bomb New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Russell Defreitas, 67, a U.S. citizen born in Guyana, and Abdul Kadir, 58, of Guyana, conspired to blow up buildings, fuel tanks and pipelines at the airport in the New York City borough of Queens.
The men, who were arrested in June 2007, face up to life in prison. They are due to be sentenced on December 15.
Defreitas, who had worked at the airport, provided knowledge of its facilities and layout, U.S. prosecutors said, while Kadir, an engineer, helped with technical aspects such as how to blow up the buried fuel pipelines.
“The foiled plot to bomb the JFK Airport fuel tanks and the fuel line that supplied them was a serious threat,” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement. “Terrorists intent on targeting New York were stopped in their tracks.”
Defense attorneys for the men portrayed them as all bluster and no substance during the trial in federal court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors said Defreitas and Kadir did more than just talk and “took concrete steps to make this plan a reality.”
But officials have said the plot was nowhere near being operational when the men were arrested.
This was the first case involving a plot against New York to go before a local jury since 2006.
“The defendants intended to send a message by killing Americans and destroying the New York City economy,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
During the four-week trial before U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry, jurors heard testimony and watched video clips of the airport filmed by Defreitas, and listened to audio recordings of the men made by a government informant.
The men sought to offer their plans to Jamaat Al Muslimeen, an Islamist extremist group in Trinidad and Tobago that was behind a 1990 coup attempt on the island, prosecutors said, and also tried to send Kadir to Iran to muster support.
Kadir, arrested on board a flight to Iran via Venezuela, said he was on his way to a religious pilgrimage and was not doing anything related to the plot.
The defense lawyers expressed disappointment in the verdict. Kadir was an “exemplary citizen of Guyana,” his lawyer Kafahni Nkrumah said.
“We believe there’s more than just the evidence that Kadir was up against, the atmosphere of fear in this country ... the fear of terrorism ... especially in New York,” Nkrumah said.
Defreitas’ attorney, Mildred Whalen, said her client would appeal the case after he was sentenced. She said U.S. law enforcement officials had monitored the plotters in order to net bigger fish such as accused Caribbean al Qaeda explosives expert Adnan El-Shukrijumah.
“I can’t imagine Russell Defreitas was their goal,” she said.
Two other men were arrested in the plot. Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad and Tobago was deemed too ill to be tried, but may face trial later. Guyanese Abdel Nur, 60, pleaded guilty in June to a separate charge of material support to terrorism and faces up to 15 years in prison.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott