Four arrested in New York terror plot

May 21, 2009 9:35:47 PM PDT
The FBI arrested four suspects who allegedly planned to blow up New York synagogues as part of a terror plot. The men, at least three of whom appear radicalized recent converts to Islam according to law enforcement sources, were arrested following an FBI sting operation.

[GET EYEWITNESS NEWS DELIVERED: Click here to sign up]

The suspects were identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen. They currently reside in Newburgh, New York.

Three of the four suspects are U.S. citizens. The fourth is a Haitian citizen who is a permanent resident alien, according to a law enforcement source.

The FBI and other agencies used an informant to monitor the defendants' actions up to their arrest on Wednesday night, including providing an inactive missile and inert explosives.

Investigators said they plotted to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and to shoot military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told ABC News that the suspects were arrested with inert explosives outside the temple and community center that they hoped to bomb. The targets were the Riverdale Temple, founded in 1947, and the Riverdale Jewish Center, authorities said.

"If the FBI were not involved, this would have been an absolute tragedy," King said. "This was a real plot. They were in the act of carrying it out tonight."

King, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the case following the arrests.

"This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists," said King.

The investigation began in June 2008 when the informant working with the FBI met Cromitie in Newburgh, New York. Cromitie explained to the informant that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset about the war. He was angry that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the United States Military forces.

According to investigators, Cromitie expressed interest in returning to Afghanistan and expressed an interest in doing "something to America."

In October 2008, the informant began meeting with the defendants at a Newburgh house equipped with concealed video and audio equipment.

It was during a meeting at that house, investigators said, that Cromitie and the other defendants expressed their desire to attack certain targets in New York. At that time, Cromitie asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives for the planned operations. The informant responded that he could get what Cromitie wanted.

Earlier this month, the informant went with Cromitie, David Williams and Payen to Stamford, Connecticut, to obtain what the defendants were told would be a surface-to-air guided missile system and three improvised explosive devices ("IEDs") containing C-4 plastic explosive material.

After the men obtained the items, none of which were real, they drove back to Newburgh. Two days later, the group met again to discuss the logistics of the operation. The four men selected the synagogue and the community center they intended to hit, it said. They also conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard Base.

On Eyewitness News at 11, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said if there can be any good news out of this case it's that "the group was relatively unsophisticated, penetrated early and not connected to any outside group."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the arrests show the danger that terrorists still pose to the country.

"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 and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism," Bloomberg said.

The defendants, all arrested in New York City, were expected to appear in federal court in suburban White Plains on Thursday.

The four defendants are each charged with one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the U.S. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

All four are also charged with conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.