4 arrested for planning NY attacks

NEW YORK: Four men were arrested on charges linked with planning attacks against a Jewish synagogue and US warplanes based at a New York military base, prosecutors said.

The men, who according to a US congressman were all born in the United States, were arrested "on charges arising from a plot to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York," according to the complaint filed at a White Plains, New York federal court.

The group, residing in New York, where Al-Qaeda extremists with hijacked commercial airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, also "planned to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles," officials said.

The group was set to appear in court on Thursday. The charges hold a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The suspects -- identified as James Cromitie, also known as Abdul Rahman; David Williams, also known as Daoud or simply DL; Onta Williams, also known as Hamza; and Laguerre Payen, also known as Amin and Almondo -- had been tracked for over a year, officials said.

In the major part of the plan, to obtain weapons for the attack, the defendants dealt with an FBI informant who provided the group "with an inactive missile and inert explosives."

According to the complaint in June 2008 when a Federal Bureau of Investigations informant met with Cromitie in Newburgh, New York, the suspect explained his anger over the US-led war in Afghanistan.

At that time Cromitie "expressed an interest in 'doing something to America,'" the complaint said.

Beginning in October 2008, the informant began meeting with Cromitie regularly along with David Williams, Onta Williams and Payen at a house in which the FBI had concealed video and audio equipment.

The group "expressed desire" to attack targets in New York, and Cromitie "asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives, according to prosecutors.

In April 2009 the group agreed on the synagogue they intended to attack and proceeded to conduct surveillance, including taking photographs of the warplanes at the military base.

"As alleged in the complaint, the defendants wanted to engage in terrorist attacks," said acting US attorney Lev L Dassin.

"Fortunately, the defendants sought the assistance of a witness cooperating with the government. While the weapons provided to the defendants were fake, the defendants thought they were absolutely real," Dassin added.

New York Congressman Peter King told CNN television that the attacks would have involved exploding bombs in cars parked outside the Jewish temple and a community center.

"This would have been a tragic loss of life if the FBI and the NYPD (New York Police Department) had not been monitoring it."

King said he believed all four of the men were born in the United States, and that they were all Muslim. "One is of Afghan descent," he said, adding that some of the group converted to Islam in prison.

"Thank God for the NYPD and it shows what a real threat we face from homegrown terrorists, and it shows especially those of us living in New York, we live with this every day," he said.

"We can rest secured tonight because this plot was stopped but we don't know how many others are out there, and it's why we can never let our guard down and we have to be extremely vigilant and realize the true diabolic nature of this enemy."