Two Queens men who allegedly plotted to disguise themselves as Jewish worshipers to bomb synagogues "one after another" were arraigned Thursday on conspiracy, hate crime, weapons and terrorism charges after a seven-month investigation by the NYPD.
Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh had discussed learning to make bombs and had planned visits to Manhattan synagogues, officials said Thursday. They are also accused of buying guns and grenades from an undercover officer who gained their trust and learned of their plans.
Officials said Ferhani and Mamdouh were "lone wolves" with no ties to al-Qaida who also considered an attack at the Empire State Building.
Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced the arrests at City Hall on Thursday.
"This latest case reminds us that we must remain vigilant every day," Kelly said.
Attorneys for both defendants denied the charges.
Officials said Ferhani had discussed growing a beard and peyots, the side curls worn by men and boys in some Orthodox Jewish denominations. Prosecutors said he envisioned attending services at a Manhattan synagogue, and would place a bomb while pretending to pray.
According to the criminal complaint, Ferhani was recorded saying they would never get caught, because how would anyone "know that I'm not a Jew, coming in there, dressed like that?"
Prosecutors said Ferhani was also recorded discussing his goal of providing financial support for the Palestinian cause in Gaza, and had expressed his belief in "violent jihad."
He had also made statements about his hatred for Jews, officials said.
The Anti-Defamation League called the arrests "a stark reminder that Jews and Jewish institutions continue to be a favorite target for extremists."
"We are fortunate that the alleged plot in this case was thwarted before it came anywhere close to fruition," Ron Meier, ADL New York regional director, said in a statement.
Both of the suspects were described as legal U.S. residents; one of Moroccan descent and the other of Algerian descent.
“New York City is an international symbol of freedom and liberty," Bloomberg said. "And for that reason, we will always be a target – we will always be on guard to protect the people of this city."
While local officials were describing their plans as a terror scheme, sources say the case did not meet federal terrorism standards.
The men were arraigned in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
While terrorism cases are typically handled in federal court, these defendants were charged under a state terrorism statute that was passed after the 9/11 attacks. Vance said the statute had never been used in a terrorism case.
"The defendants plotted and took concrete steps to bomb synagogues and kill Jewish New Yorkers as an act of terrorism," Vance said.