WASHINGTON (JTA) — The four men who planned to blow up two synagogues in the Bronx "wanted to commit jihad," the New York Police commissioner said.
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen also wanted to shoot down military planes, according to reports.
The four men, all of Newburgh 60 miles north of New York, were arrested Wednesday night. Payen is a native of Haiti. All four are Muslims, and three reportedly are recent converts to Islam.
“They stated that they wanted to commit jihad,” Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Thursday morning during a news conference at the Riverdale Jewish Center, one of the targeted synagogues.
“More information about their motives I’m sure will be developed as the case progresses, but right now they stated they wanted to make jihad. They were disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed," he said. "They were making statements that Jews were killed in this attack and that would be all right — that sort of thing.”
Kelly said the men, who are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning in Federal District Court, were not acting on behalf of any terrorist organizations and described them as "petty criminals" with multiple arrests for minor crimes.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s statement, an informant working with the FBI this month provided the four men with a disabled anti-aircraft missile launcher and disabled explosives. The men on Wednesday planted the fake explosives, which they believed to be real, in cars parked outside the Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue, and the Riverdale Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue.
Last month, according to the statement and to the criminal complaint, the defendants photographed several synagogues and a Jewish community center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx as well as the Air National Guard Base in Newburgh.
Cromitie, who according to the complaint told the informant that his parents once lived in Afghanistan, allegedly expressed an interest in working with the Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The first meeting between the informer and Cromitie took place in June 2008 in a mosque in Newburgh.
“While the weapons provided to the defendants by the cooperating witness were fake, the defendants thought they were absolutely real," acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin said in the statement. "The defendants planned to strike military planes with surface-to-air guided missiles and to destroy a synagogue and a Jewish community center with C-4 plastic explosives.”