Updated 05/12/2011 11:50 PM
Two Men Arraigned In Connection With Plot To Blow Up City Synagogue
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Two men from Whitestone, Queens were arraigned Thursday on charges of plotting to blow up a Manhattan synagogue and the Empire State Building.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, a native of Algeria, and Mohammed Mamdouh, 20, a native of Morocco, were arrested by the New York City Police Department's Intelligence Division around 6 p.m. Wednesday on Manhattan's West Side.
They pleaded innocent the following day to charges of engaging in terrorism, weapons possession and hate crimes.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by top city law enforcement officials at City Hall Thursday to announce the arrests.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the men told undercover officers that they hated Jews and wanted to kill them, but that Ferhani, seen above left, was the one taking control.
"Ferhani also expressed interest in bombing the Empire State Building. Seven months ago, New York City undercover officers encountered Ferhani, who expressed interest in killing Jews. He also said, quote, 'We will blow up a synagogue in Manhattan and take out the entire building,'" said Kelly.
The arrests of the suspects, courtesy of the Mayor's Office. Click to enlarge.
At the time of his arrest, Ferhani bought from undercover police officers two .380 handguns, one 9mm gun, a grenade and 100 rounds of ammunition.
"He was committed to violent jihad and his plans became bigger and more violent with each passing week," said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.
Police said the suspects planned to keep one gun and the grenade and sell the other two guns for more money to buy weapons.
Kelly described the men as "lone wolves," saying they had no connection to terror network al-Qaida. The suspects had been known to police because of a previous criminal case.
Ferhani is unemployed and his parents claimed asylum when the family came to the United States in 1995.
Mamdouh, seen above right, is a livery service dispatcher and a naturalized citizen who came to the United States with his family in 1999.
"He denies the charges, he maintains he is innocent. And that they will come back to court on the date the judge gave them," said Stephen Pokart, Ferhani's defense attorney.
In Queens, friends and family members of the suspects could not believe that the two men were capable of terrorism.
"You guys can do my family's research, and through all the years we've been in this country, everybody we ever met loved us, you know?" said Mohamed Ferhani, Ahmed's brother. "Because we have such a great personality, we look out for the neighborhood."
"They're very nice people. I am very surprised," said a neighbor of Mamdouh. "He's a cool guy, a very nice person."
Law enforcement has been on high alert for attacks in retaliation for last week's killing of September 11th mastermind Osama bin Laden.
While addressing reporters, Bloomberg said keeping New Yorkers safe is his highest priority.
"By assigning a thousand of our best officers to counter-terrorism and intelligence duties, and by investing in high-tech systems that improve our ability to identify and react to potentially terrorist activity, the NYPD has been able to prevent terrorists from striking our city since the attacks of 9/11," Bloomberg said.
The investigation is being handled by the New York City Police Department and Manhattan district attorney's office.
Federal law enforcement, which would normally be involved in a terror case, has declined to get involved.
"Our office will continue to corporate with the federal government in its battle against terrorism and we will continue to use every state law at our disposal to play our part in this battle," said Vance.
The suspects will return to court next week.
If convicted, both men face a life sentence in prison without parole.