New York City officials announced the arrest of two men who allegedly plotted to bomb synagogues in the city. The suspects will be charged under New York State anti-terrorism laws and could face life in prison if convicted.
The two New York men were arrested late Wednesday, and officials say they will be charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism and hate crime offenses.
New York police arrested 26-year-old Ahmed Ferhani, who is of Algerian descent, and Mohamed Mamdouh, a 20-year-old born in Morocco. The authorities acted after Ferhani agreed to put down an initial payment on three guns, several boxes of ammunition, and one inactive grenade that he was buying from an undercover officer.
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Officials said Ferhani explained his motivation by saying that he hates Jews, and that Muslims are "treated like dogs" around the world. He also allegedly expressed interest in blowing up the Empire State Building.
At a news conference Thursday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., said the plot became more violent as time went on, but was not connected to the recent U.S. killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
"While this defendant is not charged at this time with membership in any terrorist cell, make no mistake: he was very clear about what he wanted to do: get guns, get explosives, blow up synagogues, and kill Jews,” said Vance. “He was committed to violent Jihad, and his plans became bigger and more violent with each passing week.”
Federal law enforcement authorities, who usually lead terrorism investigations, declined to become involved in this case, so the suspects will be charged under New York state law. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the reason is that the case began as a criminal investigation with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation began last October when Ferhani proposed a plan to bomb synagogues and kill Jews to an undercover officer. Authorities say he spoke of his desire to participate in a “Jihad,” and introduced a collaborator, Mohamed Mamdouh. Later,Ferhani allegedly discussed dressing as a Hasidic Jew to gain entrance to a synagogue and leave behind a bomb.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the police work, and said that only vigilance will prevent future plots.
“There will always be threats, particularly from lone wolves like these. Those are perhaps the toughest to stop,” he said.
Imam Shamsi Ali, head of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, who was invited to the news conference by Mayor Bloomberg, said Muslims need to cooperate closely with police and also with the Jewish community.
“In the past few months, many rabbis, many Jewish brothers and sisters have come to our side, you know, to defend the Muslims’ rights here in this country. And now is the time for me to be [on] their side," said Ali. "This is the solidarity that we have between us."
Ferhani reportedly has prior arrests for drug and weapon possession. Officials say the charges against him and Mamdouh carry a maximum potential sentence of life in prison.