New York Bomb Plot Suspects Charged

Four men were arraigned Thursday in New York in an alleged plot to bomb two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and shoot down U.S. warplanes at an Air National Guard base in upstate New York.

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New York City police have heightened their presence in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. That comes after four men were arrested last night in an alleged terror plot. Federal investigators charged that the men were trying to bomb two synagogues and fire missiles at U.S. military planes. The group never acquired weapons to carry out their plots. But as NPR's David Greene reports, authorities took their plans seriously.

DAVID GREENE: As New Yorkers headed to work this morning, there were some gripping headlines at newsstands - The Daily News, "Terror Plot Busted: All the Dramatic Details," New York Post, "Bronx Terror Bust, Four on Mission to Blow Up Synagogues." Those papers were barely on the streets, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already arrived in the Bronx. He praised his police department.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We not only have to protect us against street crime, we have to protect us against international terrorism.

GREENE: In fact, the alleged terrorism was more homegrown than international. Three of the four men arrested were U.S. citizens, one was from Haiti. All live in Newburgh, New York, about an hour north of the city. Last night, an army of New York cops and federal authorities nabbed the men, officials say, just as they were carrying out a plot.

The suspects, officials say, planted what they thought were explosive devices in vehicles near two synagogues. This morning, David Winter, executive director of one of them, the Riverdale Jewish Center, said he was feeling relieved.

DAVID WINTER: Because what could've been a terrible, terrible story this morning was actually a positive story. A story that our authorities did what they needed to do to thwart a terrible attack. And while we didn't know, they were safeguarding us. They were watching over us. And they were making sure that we were safe.

GREENE: Federal officials were watching their four suspects for the past year. They say the four men, James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, meticulously planned last night's attacks and were hoping later to hit some planes with missiles at an international guard base in Newburgh. Their misstep came when they decided to obtain their weapons from an FBI informant who arranged for bombs that couldn't detonate and a missile that wouldn't fire.

As for motive, officials say one of the men, James Cromitie, expressed anger that the U.S. had killed Muslims in Afghanistan. According to authorities, Cromitie once said his preferred target, the World Trade Center, was already taken. So he said he'd go after a synagogue instead. Earlier today, Cromitie and two of the other suspects appeared before a federal judge in White Plains, New York. The men were in street clothes and shackled, as prosecutors described them as extremely violent.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: It's not, you know, easy to dismiss this as just some half-baked plot. They were quite serious.

GREENE: That's Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies and a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. Even though these men apparently didn't get their hands on weapons, Hoffman said, their attention to detail and planning these alleged attacks was impressive. One reason authorities waited so long to go after them, he said, is they wanted to make sure they have ample evidence.

HOFFMAN: In other words, the prosecution and the authorities wanted to catch them as it were, red-handed, with fake bombs, of course, but nonetheless, to catch them in the process of attempting to implement what they believed was a terrorist attack, in order to increase the likelihood of securing conviction.

GREENE: By day's end, all four suspects had made court appearances. They remain in custody. Their lawyers didn't seek bail.

David Greene, NPR News, New York.

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