Community, airport react to terror plot

May 21, 2009 4:01:21 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly went to the Bronx early Thursday morning to visit two of the terror plot suspects' intended targets. The mayor stopped by a Jewish temple and community center, both on Independence Avenue in Riverdale. And for those living in the neighborhood, it was just too close to home.

Bloomberg and Kelly offered words of reassurance at the two targeted temples, the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center, but the reaction is one of sadness and disbelief. It was especially troubling for those who saw the takedown Wednesday night and only later learned exactly what they'd just witnessed.

"When we showed up," one resident said, "it was like a movie scene."

"And all of the sudden, I see a whole team of FBI and SWAT," another said.

"We went up on the roof, and we could see cops from 246th all the way down to 238th," added another.

Those who saw it describe Independence Avenue awash in flashing lights, federal agents and unmarked vehicles. And all the activity surrounded their temples.

"The idea that it could have been a terrible, terrible story that was reported this morning," temple executive director David Winter said. "But it was a story of success. Our local authorities were on top of this, and we laud them for a wonderful job."

Winter was called to the Riverdale Jewish Center after the operation. There, Kelly told community members about the foiled plot.

"We were just in shock," he said.

Shock first, he says, then massive relief. Still, knowing what the alleged intent was makes people feel on edge.

"It's a very invasive feeling, and it's scary," youth director David Freund said. "It just shows how much thanks we have to have to our police department in New York."

Local leaders have asked the NYPD to provide extra security at the synagogues, and that is being done. But after witnessing the tightly-controlled operation, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz says he feels safe.

"Any neighborhood could be the target of sick minds such as that," he said. "But fortunately, the police and the FBI did a fantastic job. So that's why I went home last night, and I didn't lose a bit of sleep, because I knew that everything was done the way it should be."

Kelly says the suspected terrorists may have selected the two temples simply because of their location. They are in close proximity to the highway.

At Stewart Airport, the largest plane in the U.S. military - a C-5A Galaxy Airlifter - sits undisturbed. It is an awesome piece of machinery and a tempting target for terrorists.

Federal officials say one half of the terror plot involved shooting down a military plane at the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh. The transport planes that take off and land there every day play a major role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Trucks, tanks, any type of equipment that's needed, right down to the basic necessities that any soldier would need," Master Sergeant William Christiano said.

According to the indictment, the suspects planned to use a surface-to-air guided missle system to shoot at aircraft. Federal prosecutors say that in April, the suspects photographed the airfield and planes at the base, and drove around the perimeter looking for an ideal spot to stage the attack. Military officials say they were given few details about the plot.

"The key personnel who needed to know were informed," Captain Patrick Cordova said. "And they had their actual plans ready to go, but it never came to fruition.

Recently, most of the news regarding Stewart Airport has centered around the Port Authority's plans to turn it into the region's fourth major commercial airport. But the military presence is huge, and the Air National Guard is the sixth largest employer in the lower Hudson Valley, pumping $240 million into the local economy. But for those who live near the airport, the arrests raise new fears.

"I think there's a lot of spots here, that if someone really set their mind to it and knew what they were doing, they'd get a good shot," area resident Vinny Czepiel said. "It's pretty scary."

"There are jetliners flying over all the time," resident Sam Iannolo said. "And it's a concern, but when you have crazy people out there getting ready to shoot them out of the sky, you gotta really worry."

Despite the threat, officials at the base say security never changed, and that throughout Wednesday, it was business as usual.

To read the criminal complaint against the suspects, go to

The above report contains information from Eyewitness News reporters Jamie Roth and Marcus Solis.