Authorities Arrest 4 In New York Terrorism Plot

Four men have been arrested in what federal officials describe as a terrorism plot to bomb synagogues in New York and target U.S. aircraft with surface-to-air missiles. The arrests came Wednesday night following a yearlong investigation.

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Authorities have arrested four men in New York. Federal officials say they were part of a terrorism plot to bomb synagogues in New York and target American aircraft with surface-to-air missiles. The arrests came late Wednesday night, following a year-long investigation. An FBI informant helped to build the case. Four men were recorded and videotaped buying weapons and discussing their plans. We're going to get more on this now from NPR's David Greene, who's in our New York bureau.

David, good morning.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning to you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should mention there have been a number of arrests like this over the years, and some of the alleged plots have turned out to seem quite serious and some of them seemed far less scary than they did when the initial news broke. But let's just try to focus on this case. How serious was it, as far as we know?

GREENE: Well, that's a good point. I think as the, you know, weeks and months go on, we'll learn about, you know, how serious and how imminent this really was. But the assistant director in charge of the New York field office of the FBI, Joseph Demarest, spoke in the middle of the night to reporters and said that these men had actually planted what they thought - and that's a key here -what they thought were bags of explosives in front of a synagogue and a Jewish center here in New York City in the Bronx.

And that's really the key, because I think when we talk about the level of this threat, one question we're going to have to be asking is, you know, how close a call this really was, because these four men are accused of coming pretty close to what they believed was a terrorist plot because they were using bombs - what they thought were bombs.

They were using what authorities say was a surface-to-air missile that would never have been able to be detonated because federal authorities actually provided this mock weapon to these alleged terrorists.

And so that's what we're looking at…

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. The federal authorities were the arms supplier here? It was part of a sting operation. Is that what you're saying?

GREENE: That's exactly right. So the FBI has been watching these guys over the course of a year. And this really comes down to an FBI informant who really had a lot of contact with these four men.

And this is the question. You know, these guys were, according to authorities, pretty close to carrying out what they thought was an attack on two synagogues. And they also - their plans, authorities say, included firing missiles at military aircraft at a military base about 70 miles north of New York.

But, again, all through this year, the FBI was sort of goading them on, providing them with these weapons that would never be able to be detonated. And these guys sort of kept moving forward, thinking that they'd be able to carry out these acts.

INSKEEP: David Greene, these people are described - these four men are described as home-grown, alleged terrorists. Who were they as far as we know at this point, and what links, if any, did they have with terrorist groups?

GREENE: Well, three of them are American citizens, Steve, and one is a Haitian citizen. Authorities say - and it is not clear we should say. And Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, made this very clear when he spoke about this. There are no clear ties to any known terrorist groups.

But one of these gentleman, his name is James Cromitie, did tell authorities that he was very angry about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, angry that a lot of Muslims were being killed in U.S. military actions. And he expressed interest in joining terrorist groups. And, in fact, this FBI informant talked about ties to a terrorist group and tried to convince these four men that he was getting them weapons from a terrorist group.

But, again, we have to be very clear, these were not weapons that could've actually ever been detonated.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Greene in New York, filling us in on the arrests of four men on terrorism charges. David, of course, is a very familiar voice to many NPR listeners, and he will be filling in for Renee Montagne next week right here on MORNING EDITION.

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