Four men have been charged with conspiring to blow up jet fuel supply tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Homeland Security sources said there is no current threat at the airport and the attack as planned was "not technically feasible."
The alleged plot did not target airplane flights, officials said.
A wiretap transcript given to CNN by the FBI indicates the plotters targeted the airport because of the popularity its namesake, John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. (Watch how authorities foiled the plot )
"Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow ... they love JFK -- he's like the man," former JFK airport cargo worker Russell Defreitas said in a telephone conversation monitored by the FBI.
"If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice," Defreitas added.
At a Justice Department news conference Saturday afternoon, the plotters were described as "a determined group" whose signature was persistence.
A law enforcement source told CNN Saturday evening that the idea for the plot allegedly came from Defreitas, who also apparently recruited the other men. Those three supposedly directed the effort.
Defreitas, 63, a native of Guyana who has been a U.S. citizen since the 1960s, was arrested in Brooklyn, New York, according to the Justice Department. He was arraigned Saturday in federal court in New York.
Abdul Kadir of Guyana, a former member of the Guyana parliament, and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, are in custody in Trinidad. The United States will seek their extradition.
The fourth suspect, Abdel Nur of Guyana, is being sought.
Defreitas was once a contractor for the aviation company Evergreen Eagle, a law enforcement official told CNN. James Nelson, a company spokesman, said the firm is cooperating with authorities, but declined to provide further information.
Defreitas identified targets and escape routes and assessed airport security, the complaint alleges. Officials said the "defendants obtained satellite photographs of JFK airport and its facilities from the Internet and traveled frequently among the United States, Guyana and Trinidad to discuss their plans and solicit the financial and technical assistance of others."
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