FBI: 4 arrested in plot to bomb Bronx templePosted: Updated:
(AP) - Four men arrested after planting what theythought were explosives near a synagogue and community center andplotting to shoot down a military plane were bent on carrying out ajihad against America, authorities said Thursday. The suspects were arrested Wednesday night, shortly afterplanting a mock explosive device in the trunk of a car outside theRiverdale Temple and two mock bombs in the backseat of a caroutside the Jewish Center, authorities said. At a news conference outside the Bronx temple, PoliceCommissioner Raymond Kelly quoted one of the men as saying, "IfJews were killed in this attack ... that would be all right." James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and LaguerrePayen, all of Newburgh, were charged with conspiracy to use weaponsof mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy toacquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, the U.S. attorney's officesaid. An official told The Associated Press that three of the men areconverts to Islam. The official spoke on condition of anonymitybecause the person was not authorized to discuss details of theinvestigation. Three of the defendants are U.S. citizens and one isof Haitian descent, officials said. The defendants are due in federal court Thursday in suburbanWhite Plains. Acting U.S. Attorney Lev L. Dassin said the defendants plannedto detonate a car with plastic explosives to destroy the temple andJewish center. They also planned to shoot Stinger surface-to-air guidedmissiles at planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh,about 70 miles north of New York City. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided aninactive missile and inert C-4 to an informant for the defendants. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly met privately with congregantsThursday inside the Riverdale Temple, which is located across thestreet from a school. "The shock and being floored was followed by relief," DavidWinter, executive director of the Riverdale Jewish Center, saidafterward. Bloomberg warned against stereotypes, emphasizing that thetemple is open to people of all faiths, including a Muslim girl whosometimes prays there. Kelly said neighborhood security was ramped up to improveresidents' "comfort level," even though "No one was at risk.This was a very tightly controlled operation." Kelly said the temple may have been chosen because of"convenience" - it is near a highway. Officials told The Associated Press the arrests came after anearly yearlong undercover operation that began in Newburgh. "This latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that thehomeland security threats against New York City are sadly all tooreal and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts toprevent terrorism," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said ina statement. The mayor is expected to appear at Riverdale JewishCenter morning services with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. The defendants, in their efforts to acquire weapons, dealt withan informant acting under law enforcement supervision, authoritiessaid. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided aninactive missile and inert C-4 to the informant for the defendants,a federal complaint said. In June 2008, the informant met Cromitie in Newburgh andCromitie complained that his parents had lived in Afghanistan andhe was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people werebeing killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces,officials said. Cromitie also expressed an interest in doing "something toAmerica," they said in the complaint. In October 2008, the informant began meeting with the defendantsat a Newburgh house equipped with concealed video and audioequipment, the complaint said. Beginning in April 2009, the four men selected the synagogue andthe community center they intended to hit, it said. They alsoconducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National GuardBase, it said. Rep. Peter King, the senior Republican on the House HomelandSecurity Committee, was briefed on the case following the arrests. "This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows howreal the threat is from homegrown terrorists," said King, of NewYork. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said if there can be any good newsout of this case it's that "the group was relativelyunsophisticated, penetrated early and not connected to any outsidegroup." "The shocking plan to blow up a Jewish house of prayer withwhat the jihadist terrorists thought were C-4 explosives isdramatic proof that the dangers from such fanaticism have notpassed and that American Jews must maintain their vigilance," saida statement released by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish humanrights group. The defendants were jailed Wednesday night and couldn't becontacted for comment. The FBI didn't immediately return atelephone message seeking information on whether the men hadlawyers.