TEMPLE TERROR PLOT UNCOVERED
4 Men Arrested In Plot To Car Bomb Temple In Riverdale; Use Stinger Missiles Against Military Planes
Newburgh & Riverdale Communities Shaken To The Core After Learning Of Horrific Plans
Attorney: Suspects 'Eager To Bring Death To Jews'
James Cromitie, one of four men arrested in alleged plot to bomb Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx section of New York and a US Air National Guard Base on May 20, 2009.
David Williams, one of four men arrested in alleged plot to bomb Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx section of New York and a US Air National Guard Base on May 20, 2009.
Onta Williams, one of four men arrested in alleged plot to bomb Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx section of New York and a US Air National Guard Base on May 20, 2009.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg briefs the media on a thwarted terror plot targeting a Jewish temple in New York City on May 21, 2009.
5 of 5
* Lawyer: Alleged NYC Terrorist Mentally Challenged (5/21/2009)
* Technology Fueled NYC Terror Takedown (5/22/2009)
* Terror Plot Targeted Upstate Air Nat'l Guard Base (5/21/2009)
* NYC Community Exhales After Terror Tragedy Averted (5/21/2009)
* Mosque Leader: NY Terror Suspect Way Off On Islam (5/21/2009)
* FBI Thwarts Attacks On NYC Temple, Upstate Airport (5/21/2009)
Nearly eight years after 9/11, New Yorkers were given a sobering reminder Thursday that the threat of a terror attack is still so very real. Four men based in Newburgh are charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and kill scores of New Yorkers in a most horrific way.
Federal prosecutors say the four suspects being held are extremely violent men who embraced every opportunity for terrorism. Their chilling plot was foiled by federal investigators, and now those terror suspects are under arrest and being held without bail.
Accused of planting what they thought were explosives near two Bronx synagogues and planning to take down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, the four terror suspects were "eager to bring death to Jews" and were "disappointed...that the best target (the World Trade Center) was hit already," Asst. U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder said in federal court Thursday afternoon.
The suspects: are 55-year-old James Cromitie; 28-year-old David Williams; 32-year-old Onta Williams; and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh. Each were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles. Prosecutors painted Cromitie as the ring leader of the group, eager to take credit for the terrorist plot. He allegedly recruited the three other suspects to help carry out the plan.
Investigators say the four men, who are Muslim, met in prison and allegedly hatched their plot at a local mosque. Their plans included using surface-to-air guided missiles to strike military planes, and to destroy the Riverdale Temple and Riverdale Jewish Center with C-4 explosives.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
On Wednesday night, the four men were busted by police in dramatic fashion right outside one of the synagogues they were hoping to destroy.
According to the criminal complaint, Cromitie told an informant, "I hate those Jewish [expletive]. I would like to get a synagogue." His attorney, Vincent Briccetti, had little comment after hearing Thursday.
"I read the complaint, same as you and look forward to receiving the discovery materials from the govt. But that's all I have to say," said
The arrests were actually the end of an FBI-led investigation that began 11 months ago. The bureau had an informant inside the Newburgh mosque, an informant who cut a deal with the FBI in 2002 and who has set up several cases for the FBI before this. It's part of the FBI's post-9/11 strategy of getting their people on the inside.
After the Cromitie and the informant got to know each other in the mosque, Cromitie told the informant that he wanted to "do jihad," according to the FBI. The informant told Cromitie he could get stinger missiles to take out military planes at the Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport, and C-4 explosives that could go off at Riverdale synagogues. A timeline then for the alleged plot unfolded:
By Oct. 19, 2008, the FBI had put cameras and audio inside what they call "The Newburgh House" where most of the alleged terror plans were recorded.
On Dec. 5, 2008, at "The Newburgh House," the FBI said they had Cromitie asking how to get missiles and explosives.
On April 10, 2009 Cromitie and David Williams, the FBI said, photograph synagogues in The Bronx as possible targets.
On April 23, 2009, the FBI said the group decided the attacks (shooting down the planes; bombings at the synagogues) will all be on same day.
On April 24, 2009 the FBI said they scout the Air National Guard Base near Stewart.
On May 6, 2009 the suspects examine a missile and explosives at a warehouse in Connecticut
Finally, on May 20, 2009, they are arrested.
SHOCK IN NEWBURGH
The news of the arrests and the despicable plots the suspects allegedly hatched have turned the town of Newburgh upside down, stunning the suspects' family and friends. David Williams' mother was too distraught to speak to CBS 2, but his aunt, Aahkiyaah Cummings, said he didn't seem himself at a recent family reunion.
"When I came and embraced him a week and a half ago, I held him and said something's not right, I wasn't holding my nephew, the one that I know and love," she said.
She may have been one of the few to sense something was wrong. Everyone else who spoke about the four men shared the same reaction to the news of the terror plot. Manuel Colon has known both Cromitie and Onta Williams for years.
"I was just with Onta on Tuesday, just drinking beer, doing normal things people do and I just cant believe a friend of mine would try to hurt people in the United States," he told CBS 2.
Cromitie, an ex-con who converted to Islam behind bars, was known at the Lake Drive apartment complex for being friendly. A young Jewish neighbor told CBS 2's Tony Aiello he couldn't believe Cromitie harbored hatred for Jews.
"He was never anti-Semitic, against Jews, against any race. He believed in freedom of religion. To me this is a giant, giant shock," the neighbor said.
At the nearby mosque, where the plot allegedly was hatched, Hamin Rashada, the assistant imam, is a parole counselor who worked extensively with Peyen, an immigrant from Haiti.
"Shocking, to say the least, again because it involved Laguerre. I'm puzzled. He never gave a hint to being interested in anything like that," he said.
THE RIVERDALE PLOT
Newburgh and Riverdale, two communities separated by 60 miles, were both the targets in the plot. At Stewart Airport, the men are accused of planning to shoot down a military plane, while in Riverdale, they allegedly planted explosives in front of two synagogues.
There's a sense of angst and relief at the same time in Riverdale as people come to grips with the violence that was threatened and the effective response that prevented it. Nerves remained frayed a day after the daring raid that thwarted the plot against the two synagogues.
"It's terrifying. You just feel that your whole ground that you're standing on is just shaking now," said a Riverdale resident who only identified herself as Rachel.
"It's very sad, very sad. You can't walk any place anymore. I mean you're looking over your shoulder," said resident Ellen Kasper.
At the orthodox Riverdale Jewish Center, there was an attempt to return to business as usual despite extremely unusual circumstances.
"We're a little tired, a little exhausted emotionally," said David Winter, Executive Director of the center.
And just down the block at the Riverdale Temple, Rabbi Judith Lewis, who was in the building when the police raid occurred, spent the day calming her congregation. "I think a lot of congregants who have only heard through the media are upset and anxious and so one of the things we're hoping to do as soon as possible is to calm them down," she said.
Police insist no one was ever in danger and that the explosives were not armed, but police presence remains high in front of both buildings as they try to send the message that people there should feel safe.
Riverdale residents say they will always remember what police did to stop the potential tragedy. "I was grateful to the police, that I was. Very grateful – the FBI, the police, it was extraordinary. I felt protected," said Riverdale resident Judy Sonnett.
Leaders of both synagogues say they look forward to continued police presence as they head towards the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, and they are grateful that this time vigilance paid off and no one was hurt.
The temple terror plot isn't the first terror scheme to be foiled on U.S. soil since the 9/11 attacks.
In 2002, the "Lackawanna Six" were arrested just outside of Buffalo. The six Arab-American men were convicted of giving support to Al Qaeda.
In 2007, FBI informants help derailed five Islamic radicals' plans to attack soldiers at New Jersey's Fort Dix.
And last week, a Miami federal jury convicted five of the so-called "Liberty City Six" cell for their plot to blow up buildings, including the Sears tower.
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