2009 Bronx terrorism plot
|The Newburgh Four Bombers|
Location of the two targets.
|Date||attempted May 20, 2009|
|attempted bombing; attempt to shoot down military aircraft|
|Weapons||fake C-4 plastic explosives; fake Stinger missiles|
|Deaths||0 (attack failed)|
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. The defendants, led by James Cromitie, were indicted on 8 felony charges including Conspiracy to Use and Possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, Conspiracy to Kills Employees of the United States, Conspiracy to Possess Anti-Aircraft Missiles, and other charges. It was brought to light during the discovery phase of the case (and proven during the trial that the plot with the four men who were coaxed into participating was created by the FBI. The men argued at trial that this was a case of entrapment. All four men were convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to 25 years each in federal prison.
The FBI's use of a cooperating informant, and offers of money and food incentives to the convicted men in the case has led some 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.
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.
The terrorist suspects include four Muslim men; three are African-American U.S. citizens, and one is a Haitian immigrant. 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. Cromitie recruited them in a mosque in Newburgh, New York, which he attended.
Cromitie and his three accomplices, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, were described as "extremely violent men" by prosecutors. But the defense argued that these men would not have contrived this plot without the leadership of paid informants, which many have considered a wasteful and inappropriate 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 he had been to 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.
In April 2009, Cromitie and his three alleged accomplices surveilled the targets chosen by the FBI. 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.
In late August 2010, government informant Shahed Hussain testified, stating Cromitie had said during the investigation that he "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."
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. 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. 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. In the Bronx case he was reported to have used audio and video taped many of his meetings with the attackers.
In April 2009, Cromitie and his three accomplices surveilled targets chosen by the FBI informant. 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.
The accused attackers bought a camera from Wal-Mart and used cellphones provided to them by the FBI informant to scout out the synagogues. Cromitie attempted to buy guns from a dealer in Newburgh; however, the dealer had sold out. He then drove downstate and bought a $700 pistol from a Bloods gang leader in Brooklyn.
On May 6, 2009, the men traveled to Stamford, Connecticut at the direction of the FBI informant 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. 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.
Attempted attack and arrest
The men placed fake bombs wired to cell phones in two 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.
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. The air base shares facilities with the civilian Stewart International Airport.
Even though the four defendants were known to be unarmed, the New York City Police Department and the FBI staged an elaborate arrest scenario with more than 100 officers. 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.
Both the car bombs and the missiles were actually fakes given to the plotters with the help of an informant for the FBI. 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.
Trial and sentencing
James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen were charged with conspiracy and weapons offenses at their first court appearance on May 21, 2009 and were ordered to be held without bail. 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.
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".
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." After a six-week trial and eight days of deliberations, the four were convicted by the jury. The lawyers for the four filed a motion for a new trial claiming that Hussain committed perjury during the trial and other improprieties but the motion was denied. 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.
On June 29, 2011, James 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. 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.
Laguerre Payen is currently serving his 25-year sentence at the United States Penitentiary-Lewisburg, a high-security facility in Pennsylvania, and is scheduled for release in 2031.
Reactions and aftermath
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. New York Governor David Paterson said the plot illustrated the constant terrorist threat New York faces. 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.
In 2014, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner made a movie about the trial and the use of informants in the American Muslim community called The Newburgh Sting, which was distribute by HBO Films.
- 1973 New York bomb plot
- 1997 Empire State Building shooting
- 2004 financial buildings plot
- 2005 Los Angeles bomb plot
- 2007 Fort Dix attack plot
- 2009 Little Rock military recruiting office shooting – al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-inspired attack by Yemen-trained jihadi
- 2011 Manhattan terrorism plot – effort by two Muslim Arab-Americans to attack a synagogue
- Buffalo Six
- Conversion to Islam in prisons
- List of terrorist incidents, 2009
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- Convictions in Synagogue Bombing Plot Upheld August 23, 2013
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- Newburgh mosque leaders: We don’t preach hate By Alex Weisler · May 25, 2009 
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- Judge gives men convicted in Bronx synagogue bomb plot 25 years in prison but lambasts government New York Daily News
- Judge slams sting in Bronx synagogue case Newsday September 7, 2011
- Targeted Bronx synagogues to get security funds, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), June 2, 2009.