Updated 05/21/2009 11:59 PM
Accused Bronx Terrorists Appear In Federal Court
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Four men accused of a terror plot to bomb a Jewish center in the Bronx were assigned counsel Thursday afternoon during a federal court appearance in Westchester County.
Investigators say the men planned to detonate a car with explosives outside a synagogue and Jewish Center in Riverdale and shoot down military planes at the New York Air National Guard base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. with guided missiles.
Last night, the FBI arrested 55-year-old James Cromitie, 28-year-old David Williams, 32-year-old Onta Williams and LaGuerre Payen.
Three of the men were brought to the federal courthouse and were assigned council during a hearing. They did not enter a plea or seek bail, but they all face potential life prison sentences.
Payen appeared before the judge hours after his co-defendants.
A federal prosecutor described the men as extremely violent, saying they were disappointed the World Trade Center was not around any more to attack, and that they were "eager to bring death to Jews."
Officials say three of the so-called "homegrown terrorists" are U.S. citizens and one is Haitian. They also say Cromitie is believed to be of Afghan descent. All were supposedly upset about U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, all four men are charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles.
"It speaks to our concern about homegrown terrorism," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "We say there are three levels: there's Al Qaida central, there are the Al Qaida affiliates. And there is the homegrown threat - that is in many ways the most difficult to address."
The arrests came after a year-long investigation by the FBI, city and state police and the Department of Homeland Security.
Investigators say Cromitie first made contact with an undercover informant in a mosque in Newburgh, who then provided the suspects with a phony missile and fake explosives.
Joseph Demarest of the FBI said the group shares "hatred of the west. The leader of the group concerned about deaths at the hands of the U.S military in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also an anti-sentiment [sic] towards the Jewish people."
Local officials said the incident shows the need to be weary of domestic terror threats.
"It gives us a heightened awareness and it makes us realize that the terrorist threat is not just something that's hypothetical. It's very real and it's there and we all have to be alerted," said Democratic Bronx Representative Eliot Engel.
"All I know is that this originally... stands from a mosque in Newburgh," said Republican Long Island Representative Peter King. "So the Stewart Air Force Base is near Newburgh, Riverdale is relatively close to Newburgh, so it was a reasonably planned plot."
"I think you can walk away from this feeling better and safer about New York than ever before," said Bloomberg. "Look, we live in a dangerous world. The question is, do we have the resources and the management and the dedication and the constancy to make sure that we prevent people like this from taking away our freedoms?"
Meanwhile, the staff of the Riverdale Jewish Center met Thursday to discuss how to address the thwarted attack among the local Jewish community.
"With the older kids we can definitely talk about it, from fifth grade and above," said David Freund, the center's youth director. "For the younger kids, I want to leave that to the parents, because that's a personal message.... It's going to be the talk of the community and something that needs to be addressed in the right kind of way."
Senator Charles Schumer said the group was relatively unsophisticated and did not seem to be connected to any outside group.
The four defendants are due back in court on June 5.