Prosecutors and defense lawyers are in plea negotiations in a rare state-level terror case against a man charged with building a homemade bomb to try to attack soldiers, police and other government targets, both sides said Monday.
Prosecutors hope either to have a deal or to take the case to a grand jury by March 1, Jose Pimentel's next court date, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Brian Fields told a court.
But the DA's office hasn't made any firm offer yet, defense lawyer Lori Cohen said.
The negotiations come less than two months into a case that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials have portrayed as a smart use of a state terror law against a man who posed a clear threat, but that some law enforcement officials have said the FBI declined to get involved in because of doubts about the strength of the case.
Although there are plea talks, prosecutors "are not backing off" the case, Cohen said.
Prosecutors have said they have "countless hours" of sound and video recordings in the case. Cohen said she was reviewing evidence prosecutors had provided but she wouldn't detail it.
In the meantime, Pimentel, who didn't have to appear at Monday's brief court session, is being held without bail on charges including weapons possession and conspiracy as terror crimes.
The Dominican-born al-Qaida sympathizer and Muslim convert, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, was making a pipe bomb when arrested in late November, authorities said. He later told police he was about an hour from finishing the weapon and believed Islamic law obligates all Muslims to wage war against Americans to avenge U.S. military action in their homelands, police said.
He maintained a website detailing his belief in holy war, or jihad, and told an informant he wanted to attack targets that included police cars and stations, post offices and soldiers returning home from abroad, authorities said.
A previous defense lawyer said Pimentel wasn't a true danger or devious plotter, noting that he aired his extremist ideas on the Internet. But police and prosecutors say Pimentel posed a real and imminent peril.
Most terror cases are federal, but some New York prosecutors have made use of a state terror law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two law enforcement officials have said the FBI stayed out of the Pimentel case because agents felt he didn't have the inclination or ability to act without the informant's involvement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the case.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said police kept federal authorities apprised before circumstances forced investigators to act fast using state charges.
The police department also took the unusual step of working with Manhattan prosecutors, instead of federal officials, to bring a terrorism case in May against two men charged with planning to attack synagogues.
A grand jury has since declined to indict Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh on the most serious charge initially brought against them — a high-level terror conspiracy count that carried the potential for life in prison without parole. They were, however, indicted on lesser state terrorism and hate crime charges, including one punishable by up to 32 years behind bars.
Attorneys for Ferhani have said hate crime and terror charges are being misapplied to what they call a case of police entrapment. Mamdouh's lawyers have said the charges against him don't amount to "the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population" required for a conviction under the state terror law.