2009 Bronx terrorism plot

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The Newburgh Four Bombers
2009 New York City bomb plot location.png
Location of the two targets.
Location New York
Date attempted May 20, 2009
Attack type
attempted bombing; attempt to shoot down military aircraft
Weapons fake C-4 plastic explosives; fake Stinger missiles
Deaths 0 (attack failed)
Suspected perpetrators
4 individuals

On May 20, 2009, US law enforcement arrested four men in connection with a plot to shoot down military airplanes flying out of an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, and blow up two synagogues in the Riverdale community of the Bronx.[1][2] The terrorist ring, led by James Cromitie, was tried and all were convicted. It was later brought to light that the plot with the four men who were coaxed into participating was created by the FBI. The men argue that this was a case of entrapment.

The FBI's use of two informants, and offers of money and food incentives to the convicted men in the case has led some[3][4] to accuse the FBI of entrapment. On August 23, 2013 by a 2 to 1 vote an appeal to overturn the convictions was denied by a Manhattan appeals court. Judge Jon O. Newman cited Cromitie's statements as proof of intent. Dissenting judge the Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs said there was scarce evidence of pre intent and that Cromitie was "badgered" into joining the plot.[5]

Background[edit]

The attempted attack is one in a series of Islam-related attacks and failed attacks by Muslims on military installations in the United States, including the 2005 Los Angeles bomb plot, the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, the 2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting, and the September 11 attacks. As with the 2005 plot to attack military bases in California, some or all of the other suspects converted to Islam in prison.[6]

Previous Islam-related terror attacks in Riverdale include the 1989 firebombing of the Riverdale Press during the controversy over The Satanic Verses and the 2000 New York terror attack.[7]

Suspects[edit]

The terrorist suspects include four Muslim men; three are African-American U.S. citizens, and one is a Haitian immigrant.[8] Cromitie, the leader, claims to have been born a Muslim; others maintain that he and some or all of the other suspects converted to Islam in prison.[6][9][10] Cromitie recruited them at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, New York,[11][8] which he attended.[12]

Cromitie and his three accomplices, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, were described as "extremely violent men" by prosecutors. But the defense clarified that these men would not have contrived this plot without the leadership of paid informants, which many have considered a wasteful use of government resources, i.e., to create terrorism plots where there wouldn't have been any to begin with.

Cromitie (also known as Abdul Rahman), the reported leader, claimed that his parents live in Afghanistan and told the FBI informant that he was angry about the US military killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had lived in Brooklyn and had a record of 27 arrests for minor crimes both in upstate New York State and New York City.[1]

In April 2009, Cromitie and his three alleged accomplices chose their targets. They allegedly attempted to both bomb the Riverdale Temple and nearby Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx, and, using Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles, shoot down military planes flying out of a nearby air base.[2]

In late August 2010, government informant Shahed Hussain testified, stating Cromitie "hated Jews and Jewish people and he hated the American people, American soldiers. He was full of hate on those subjects. He said he would kill the president (then George W. Bush) 700 times because he's the Antichrist."[13]

Plot[edit]

Satellite photo of Stewart Air National Guard Base, where the accused were planning to shoot down a military aircraft.

The events leading up to the attempted attack began in June 2008. Shahed Hussain, an Albany hotel owner and FBI informant, showed up at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque under the name "Maqsood", talking of jihad and violence. Members of the congregation interviewed after the terror plot was exposed said that "most" members of the congregation had believed Hussain to be an informant. None had reported his talk about Jihad to the authorities.[14] Cromitie expressed interest to the informant of returning to Afghanistan, and hopefully becoming a martyr. Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant, agreed to serve as an FBI informant after being arrested in 2002 over a scam involving driver's licenses.[15] He previously served as an informant in an unrelated terrorism investigation in Albany, which resulted in the convictions of Yassin M. Aref and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain.[15] In the Bronx case he was reported to have used audio and video taped many of his meetings with the attackers.[2]

In April 2009, Cromitie and his three accomplices chose their targets. They planned to both bomb the Riverdale Temple and nearby Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx, and, using Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles, shoot down military planes flying out of a nearby air base.[2]

The accused attackers bought cellphones, as well as cameras, from Wal-Mart, to scout out the synagogues. They attempted to buy guns from a dealer in Newburgh; however, the dealer had sold out. They then drove downstate and bought a $700 pistol from a Bloods gang leader in Brooklyn.[16]

On May 6, 2009, the men traveled to Stamford, Connecticut, to pick up what they believed to be a surface-to-air guided-missile system and three improvised explosive devices, all of which were incapable of actually being used.[2] On the way there, one of the men believed they were being followed by federal agents. They returned to Newburgh until they were satisfied that they were safe, and then turned around and headed back to Stamford.[16]

The men also conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard base, including taking photographs to prepare for the attack there.[9][17]

Attempted attack and arrest[edit]

The men placed fake bombs wired to cell phones in three separate cars outside the Riverdale Temple and nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, both in the Riverdale community of Bronx. New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said one of the suspects placed explosives, while the other three suspects served as lookouts.[2][11]

The men were returning to their vehicle and heading to attack aircraft at the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, with the fake Stinger missiles when law enforcement stopped them.[11][18] The air base shares facilities with the civilian Stewart International Airport.

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 smashed the blackened windows of the S.U.V., removed the men from the vehicle, and handcuffed them on the ground. None offered resistance.[19]

Both the car bombs and the missiles were actually fakes given to the plotters with the help of an informant for the FBI.[9] Each of the two homemade bombs was equipped with about 37 pounds of inert material designed to look like C-4 plastic explosive, and "there was no danger to anyone," Kelly said.[19]

Trial and sentencing[edit]

Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Payen and were charged with conspiracy and weapons offenses at their first court appearance on May 21, 2009 and were ordered to be held without bail.[20] The charges they faced – conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles – carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.[20]

All four men pleaded not guilty. In March 2010, defense lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case on grounds of entrapment. Relying on materials provided by the government (including recordings and FBI agents' affidavits), the defense argued that the plot was proposed and closely directed by the FBI's informant, who "suggested the targets, paid for the defendants' groceries, bought a gun, provided the fake bombs and missile, assembled the explosive devices and acted as chauffeur".[21]

In late August 2010, government informant Shahed Hussain testified, stating that ringleader James Cromitie "hated Jews and Jewish people and he hated the American people, American soldiers. He was full of hate on those subjects. He said he would kill the president 700 times because he's the Antichrist."[13] After a six-week trial, the four were convicted. The lawyers for the four have filed a motion for a new trial claiming that Hussain committed perjury during the trial. David Williams told the Village Voice that the four were not part of plot to hurt people but to swindle Hussain, and the incriminating statements were made to make Hussain believe the four were credible terrorists.[22]

On June 29, 2011, Cromitie, Onta Williams, and David Williams were each sentenced for their part in the attempted attack to 25 years in prison by Manhattan Federal Judge Colleen McMahon, who criticized not only the defendants, but also what she viewed as the government's overzealous handling of the investigation. Referring to Cromitie, she said, "The essence of what occurred here is that a government, understandably zealous to protect its citizens from terrorism, came upon a man both bigoted and suggestible, one who was incapable of committing an act of terrorism on his own. It created acts of terrorism out of his fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true." She added, "The government did not have to infiltrate and foil some nefarious plot – there was no nefarious plot to foil." She said the defendants were "not political or religious martyrs," but "thugs for hire, pure and simple."

Each of the men apologized before the sentencing. Cromitie said, "I've never been a terrorist and I'll never be a terrorist. I'm very sorry I let myself get caught up in a sting like this" and added that he did not truly believe the anti-Semitic statements heard on the audiotapes at trial.[23] On September 7, 2011, McMahon also sentenced Laguerre Payen to 25 years prison, but repeated her criticism of the government's handling of the investigation.[24]

Imprisonment[edit]

James Cromitie is currently serving his 25-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Ray Brook, a medium security facility in New York State, and is scheduled for release in 2031.[25]

Onta Williams is currently serving his 25-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, McDowell, a medium security facility in West Virginia, and is scheduled for release in 2031.[26]

David Williams is currently serving his 25-year sentence at the United States Penitentiary, McCreary, a high security facility in Kentucky, and is scheduled for release in 2031.[27]

Laguerre Payen is currently serving his 25-year sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman, a high-security facility in Florida, and is scheduled for release in 2031.[28]

Reactions and aftermath[edit]

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, praised the New York City Police Department. Other local politicians also praised law enforcement and expressed relief.[2] New York Governor David Paterson said the plot illustrated the constant terrorist threat New York faces.[9] On May 30, 2009, New York Governor David Paterson announced he would give the Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Reform Temple $25,000 each to improve their security. The money will come from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and will primarily involve the installation of alarms and surveillance equipment.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Peter, Tom A. "New York terror plotters wanted to 'do jihad'". csmonitor.com. Archived from the original on May 24, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hernandez, Javier C.; Sewell Chan (May 21, 2009). "N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects Acted Alone, Police Say". NYT. Archived from the original on May 26, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  3. ^ Harris, Paul (December 12, 2011). "Newburgh Four: poor, black, and jailed under FBI 'entrapment' tactics". The Guardian. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  4. ^ Harris, Paul (March 20, 2012). "The ex-FBI informant with a change of heart: 'There is no real hunt. It's fixed'". The Guardian. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  5. ^ Convictions in Synagogue Bombing Plot Upheld August 23, 2013
  6. ^ a b Wakin, Daniel J. (May 24, 2009). "Imams Reject Talk That Islam Radicalizes Inmates". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  7. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. (May 30, 2009). "Two Rabbis Find They're Separated Only by Doctrine". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 5, 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Baker, Al; Javier C. Hernandez (May 20, 2009). "4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d Weaver, Matthew (May 21, 2009). "Four arrested over New York terrorist bomb plot | World news | guardian.co.uk". The Guardian (London). Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  10. ^ New York Times, Imams Reject Talk That Islam Radicalizes Inmates, DANIEL J. WAKIN, May 23, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/nyregion/24convert.html?ref=us
  11. ^ a b c Daly, Michael; Gendar, Alison; Kennedy, Helen (May 21, 2009). "FBI arrest four in alleged plot to bomb Bronx synagogues, shoot down plane". Daily News (New York). Archived from the original on May 21, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  12. ^ Newburgh mosque leaders: We don’t preach hate By Alex Weisler · May 25, 2009 [1]
  13. ^ a b Larry Neumeister (August 27, 2010). "Informant takes stand in NY temple plot case". Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 29, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010. 
  14. ^ Newburgh mosque leaders: We don’t preach hate. By Alex Weisler. May 25, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Rashbaum, William K.; Kareem Fahim (May 23, 2009). "Informer’s Role in Bombing Plot". New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b Wilson, Michael (May 21, 2009). "In Bronx Bomb Case, Missteps Caught on Tape". NYT. Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved May 22, 2009. 
  17. ^ Chan, Sewell (September 17, 2008). "4 Arrested in New York Terror Plot - City Room Blog". Cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com. Archived from the original on May 23, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Four arrested over plot to blow up New York synagogue". The Times (London). May 21, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b Chan, Sewell (September 17, 2008). "Latest Updates in Terror Plot - City Room Blog". Cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com. Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  20. ^ a b Candiotti, Susan (May 21, 2009). "Suspects in alleged synagogue bomb plot denied bail". CNN. Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  21. ^ Fitgerald, Jim (March 19, 2010). "Defense says NY synagogue-bomb plot was feds' idea". The Associated Press. Retrieved March 31, 2010. [dead link]
  22. ^ Were the Newburgh 4 Really Out to Blow Up Synagogues? A Defendant Finally Speaks Out. Village Voice March 2, 2011
  23. ^ Judge gives men convicted in Bronx synagogue bomb plot 25 years in prison but lambasts government New York Daily News
  24. ^ Judge slams sting in Bronx synagogue case Newsday September 7, 2011
  25. ^ http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=IDSearch&needingMoreList=false&IDType=IRN&IDNumber=70658-054&x=120&y=17
  26. ^ http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=IDSearch&needingMoreList=false&IDType=IRN&IDNumber=83614-054&x=114&y=20
  27. ^ http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=IDSearch&needingMoreList=false&IDType=IRN&IDNumber=70659-054&x=106&y=11
  28. ^ http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=IDSearch&needingMoreList=false&IDType=IRN&IDNumber=85165-054&x=109&y=20
  29. ^ Targeted Bronx synagogues to get security funds, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), June 2, 2009.