One of four men accused of plotting to kill thousands and cause an economic catastrophe by blowing up John F. Kennedy International Airport pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Tuesday, the day before his federal trial was to begin.
In heavily accented English and sometimes through tears, Abdel Nur, of Guyana, admitted that he provided material support of terrorists, a charge that was not in the original indictment against him. The lesser charge spares him a possible life sentence. Instead, he now faces up to 15 years in prison.
Nur admitted he told co-defendants Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir and Russell Defreitas that he would provide them with protection and guidance on a trip to Trinidad and Tobago in May 2007 to buy supplies.
"I understand the destruction of the fuel and planes was to cause major economic loss in the U.S.," he said, reading from a statement. His plea did not include plotting to kill people.
The four had been charged with conspiracy. A trial for Kadir and Defreitas is scheduled to begin Wednesday. Ibrahim's case was severed after he went on a hunger strike in prison and became ill. It was unclear when he would be tried.
An indictment unsealed in 2007 said the men hoped to "cause greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks" by using explosives to ignite a fuel pipeline feeding JFK and to destroy the airport and parts of Queens, where the line runs underground. Defreitas, the suspected head of the operation and the only U.S. citizen, worked at JFK as a cargo handler and retired in 1995.
The plot, which the men code-named Chicken Farm, never got past the planning stages, authorities said.
Nur and the other men were brought to New York in 2008 after being taken into custody in Trinidad, where they spent more than a year fighting extradition. A judge there rejected arguments they couldn't get a fair trial in the United States.
Nur's attorney Daniel Nobel described his ties to the other defendants as weak: The four knew each other through a mosque in Trinidad. He also said Nur was not a danger to the public.
"While guilty of the charge, he did not represent a threat to America," he said.
Nobel said his client will not testify or provide any details against the remaining defendants.
Nur hopes to return to Guyana someday, Nobel said. He described his client as a poor man who is well-liked in his community.
Federal judge Dora Irizarry set sentencing for Aug. 5. She will hear the trial for Kadir and Defreitas.