Four New York men were arrested Wednesday in connection with an alleged plot to blow up area Jewish centers and military targets. The plot, however, was foiled by undercover agents.
Raids by the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force in the Bronx captured the suspected ringleader and three followers in what law enforcement sources are calling a homegrown terrorist plot.
"The NYPD did exactly what they're trained to do and have prevented what could have been a terrible event in our city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning.
Agents and police watched Wednesday night as the suspects allegedly planted what they thought were bombs outside two Jewish community centers in Riverdale, a Bronx, New York neighborhood. In one case the suspected terrorists planted a bomb inside a parked car. However, officials said the suspects were actually using fake explosives given to them in an earlier sting operation to make sure they didn't get their hands on real bombs.
"The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians, they were totally inert, no one was ever at risk," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The four suspects were identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, of Newburgh in upstate New York, where authorities were conducting raids at their homes, sources said.
Authorities said they had the plotters under surveillance since June of 2008 and there was "no chance" the alleged scheme could succeed. They credited the work of a long time informant with keeping tabs on the group.
The FBI said the Muslim suspects were angry and full of hate for America.
"Hatred of the West. The leader of the group, James Cromitie was concerned about deaths at the hands of the U.S. military in Afghanistan," and also expressed anti-Jewish sentiment, Joseph Demarest the head of the New York FBI said.
According to the criminal complaint, Cromitie said "I hate those f-ing Jewish bastards." He bragged that it would be a "piece of cake" to bomb a Jewish Center in Riverdale, according to the complaint.
He said his father lives in Afghanistan and he was upset about U.S. military presence there.
"The fact that this type of hatred exists means that we all have to be vigilant all of the time," city councilman Jeffrey Dinowitz said Thursday.
Cromitie was the first to approach the informant, authorities said. He told the informant he has ties to the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Authorities said Cromitie had 27 past arrests and had recently been working at a nation-wide discount retailer, authorities said.
Several of the suspects have previously been arrested on drug charges and may have converted to Islam in prison, authorities said.
The four men allegedly would meet in a safe house in Newburgh, which authorities said they had bugged with audio and video equipment.
The suspects said they wanted to get their hands on stinger missiles to shoot down planes at the nearby Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport, according to a criminal complaint unsealed late Wednesday. The suspects also received what they believed were two stinger missiles which they intended to use to shoot down military planes, the complaint said. They also bought cell phones to allegedly use in the plot.
Officials said they moved in now so the alleged plot could not progress any further.
The four men are in custody and are expected to be arraigned Thursday in a White Plains, New York federal court on terrorism-related counts.
"It shows you can't let your guard down," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. "They did intend to use car bombs by remote control but the bombs the informant sold them were duds."
“I have spoken to both the New York office of the FBI and Commissioner Kelly and I want to commend them both on an outstanding job. They have told me they have been monitoring this group for some time and that the men arrested did not have any connection to other terrorists," Schumer added.
Since the 9/11 attacks, authorities have arrested suspects in a number of alleged plots against area targets, including the Fort Dix New Jersey military base, John F. Kennedy Airport, the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Last December, a New Jersey jury convicted five foreign-born men, living and working in the area for years, of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers at Ft. Dix. Three were brothers from Yugoslavia; the others were born in Jordan and Turkey. The FBI arrested them after 15 months of surveillance after they tried to buy AK-47s and M-16s. The men had claimed they were set up by an unscrupulous informant.
In June 2007, four alleged Muslim extremists -- a 63-year-old former JFK airport cargo employee living in Brooklyn and three others from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago -- were charged with plotting to blow up fuel lines and gas tanks at the busy Queens airport. All four have pleaded not guilty.
Two men were convicted of plotting to bomb the Herald Square station including a Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj. He is serving 30 years in federal prison for conspiring to blow up the subway station on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention in nearby Madison Square Garden.