A lawyer for an Algerian native accused of planning to blow up synagogues said Tuesday that her client was a mentally unstable man targeted by the New York Police Department as part of its "unconstitutional and illegal" surveillance of Muslims.
"They find this man who is mentally ill, who has a criminal record, who has a drug problem and they target him," said Elizabeth Fink, one of the attorneys representing Ahmed Ferhani. "What's happening in the city of New York is evil, judge. It is wrong, and this case will expose it."
Assistant District Attorney Gary Galperin complained that "much of what we're hearing is simply political grandstanding."
Ferhani, 27, and co-defendant Mohamed Mamdouh were arrested May 11, 2011, on charges that they planned to bomb a synagogue to avenge what they saw as mistreatment of Muslims around the world.
A grand jury declined to indict the two 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 indicted on lesser state terror and hate crime charges including one punishable by up to 32 years behind bars.
Ferhani, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, attended Tuesday's hearing in Manhattan state Supreme Court. He did not speak.
The court proceeding was a chance for lawyers to present arguments they had previously made in court filings. Defense lawyers said the case should be dismissed for insufficient evidence. Judge Michael Obus made no decision.
Ferhani was arrested in a sting after purchasing three guns and an inert grenade from an undercover officer, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Margaret Gandy said he acquired the weapons for "the cause." She said his long-term goal was "to commit a violent act against a synagogue."
"He needed weapons to execute the plan that he had been building toward for weeks and weeks and weeks," Gandy said.
But defense lawyer Rebecca Heinegg said Ferhani should not have been arrested on a terror charge for an act of "ordinary street crime" like buying guns. Fink accused the district attorney of a "bad-faith prosecution" motivated by the need to justify what she said was the NYPD's extensive surveillance of Muslim communities.
In court papers, Fink cited stories by The Associated Press that described efforts to monitor Muslim student groups throughout the Northeast and to compile the names of Moroccan cab drivers. Police officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said the surveillance effort was legal, constitutional and vital to protecting the city after the 2001 terror attacks.
When Fink compared the surveillance of Muslims to the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, the judge interjected: "This could be a long trial."
Ferhani's lawyers asked prosecutors for transcripts of recorded conversations between Ferhani and the main undercover officer who investigated him. Prosecutors asked the defense to provide official notice of their intent to present psychiatric evidence.
The next court date was set for May 15.