FBI arrests four in alleged plot to bomb Bronx synagogues, shoot down plane

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Friday, May 22, 2009

United States law enforcement officials announced the arrest Thursday of four men in connection with a plot to blow up two synagogues in The Bronx, a borough of New York City, and shoot down military airplanes flying out of the Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Satellite photo of Stewart Air National Guard Base

The men allegedly placed car bombs wired to cell phones outside the Riverdale Temple and nearby Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx area of the city. New York City Police Department commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said one of the suspects placed what he believed were homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices, in separate vehicles parked outside the synagogues. The other three suspects served as lookouts.

According to a joint statement released by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the FBI and the New York City Police Department, the men were returning to the vehicle and were planning to attack aircraft at the Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles when law enforcement stopped them.

As the men were returning to the vehicle, the signal was given for the arrest. An 18-wheel New York City Police Department vehicle blocked the end of the street. The FBI informer also served as the driver of the suspects’ vehicle. Another armored vehicle arrived, and officers from the department’s Emergency Service Unit, according to witnesses, smashed the blackened windows of the SUV, removed the men from the vehicle, and handcuffed them on the ground. None offered resistance.

The men had previously conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard base including taking photographs.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Image: David Shankbone.

Both the car bombs and the missiles were actually fakes given to the plotters with the help of an informant for the FBI, who posed as a Pakistani militant affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Each of the two homemade bombs was equipped with about 37 pounds of inert material labeled as C-4 plastic explosives, but the devices had been 'totally disabled by the FBI," and "there was no danger to anyone," Commissioner Kelly said.

"While the bombs these terrorists attempted to plant tonight were – unbeknownst to them – fake, this latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real," said Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City.

The suspects are reported to be four Muslim men; three U.S. citizens, one Haitian. The Daily News reports that three of the men are jail-house converts to Islam.

James Cromitie, 53, the reported leader, claims that his parents live in Afghanistan and told the FBI informant that he was angry about the U.S. military killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had lived in Brooklyn and had a record of "as many as 27 arrests" for minor crimes "both upstate and in New York City."

The other suspects are David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen a native of Haiti.

At the arraignment held Thursday, attorney for Laguerre Payen, Marilyn Reader, told the court that Payen has "a very low borderline" intelligence quotient and receives medication for schizophrenia.