NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal authorities declined to join the local investigation of a suspected New York militant, saying he was not likely to carry out an attack, a law enforcement source familiar with the case said on Monday.
Jose Pimentel, 27, a suspected follower of late Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was arrested on Saturday in a New York apartment while assembling a pipe bomb, police said.
A U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic, Pimentel made his first appearance in a New York criminal court on Sunday night on state terrorism charges.
The source said New York police investigators had asked the FBI to get involved in the case at least twice but it declined because Pimentel did not appear predisposed or capable of carrying out an attack.
The source was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and asked not to be identified.
Adam Kaufmann, chief of the investigation division for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, said federal investigators never raised any objections to the case when they discussed it this fall, as Pimentel began taking more concrete steps toward mounting an attack.
Kaufmann said federal investigators were fine with city and state agencies handling the case themselves once it became clear that Pimentel did not have any connections with al Qaeda or other foreign militant groups.
State law allows conspiracy charges against a single individual, while federal law does not, Kaufmann said.
“Federal prosecutors in New York and the FBI were coordinating with state authorities for a lengthy period of time while the defendant was being monitored by the NYPD,” a second law enforcement source said. “As the case developed, at the appropriate time and in consultation with state and federal authorities, the defendant was arrested by the NYPD on state charges.”
The charges against Pimentel mark the second time this year Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has made use of New York state anti-terrorism laws, which were passed shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In May, Vance’s office charged an Algerian and a Moroccan-born U.S. citizen with conspiring to dress as Jewish worshipers and bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan.
But a grand jury declined to indict the men on the most serious charge sought by prosecutors, and their attorneys have argued they were entrapped by police and a confidential informant.
A court-appointed attorney for Pimentel, Joseph Zablocki, said in court on Sunday that his client’s case might verge on entrapment as well.
The criminal complaint against Pimentel said that after his arrest he had admitted to police that he “took active steps to build the bomb, including shaving the match heads and drilling holes in the pipes” and was “one hour away from completing it.”
It said a police informant recorded meetings with Pimentel over several months and accompanied him as he bought materials for the bomb, including a drill and a clock.
Pimentel had been under surveillance since May 2009 and considered New York police cars, a New Jersey police station and U.S. post office among his potential targets, police officials said.
As a reader of the online magazine Inspire, which is published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Pimentel took instructions from an article “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” Kelly said.
Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Daniel Trotta and Bill Trott