Synagogue Attack by ’Islamic Extremists’ Stopped

New York police arrested two men who allegedly plotted a terrorist attack on an unidentified, major synagogue in Manhattan, authorities said.

Ahmed Ferhani, 26, a native of Algeria, and Moroccan immigrant Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, both residents of Queens, New York, were arrested in a sting operation last night after allegedly paying an undercover police agent for two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver, ammunition and a grenade that they didn’t know was deactivated.

The men were described as “Islamic extremists” by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who said at a news conference today that the two suspects “did it for Jihad.”

Ferhani, who was unemployed, said “he was fed up with the way Muslims were being treated around the world,” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the news conference, citing recordings of Ferhani made by the undercover agent. “They’re treating us like dogs,” Ferhani allegedly said.

The men discussed disguising themselves as Jewish worshippers as part of a plan to attack a synagogue, according to a statement issued by Vance’s office.

“We will blow up a synagogue in Manhattan and take out the entire building,” Ferhani said, according to Kelly.

‘Hate Jews’

“I hate Jews,” Mamdouh said.

“I want to kill them,” Ferhani said in the recordings made by the undercover New York police officer, Kelly said.

The men also discussed on the tapes wanting to blow up a church in Queens and expressed an interest in bombing the Empire State Building, Kelly said.

Investigators didn’t establish any ties between the arrested men and the international terrorist group al-Qaeda, Kelly said. The commissioner described them as “lone wolves.”

Kelly said the arrest was made yesterday during the undercover investigation because of Ferhani’s interest in obtaining weapons, and his “expressed desire to construct increasingly powerful bombs.”

Police made the arrests in Manhattan about 6 p.m. yesterday after Ferhani purchased weapons, Kelly said. Twelve detectives in six unmarked cars converged on a late model Toyota Corolla occupied by Ferhani at West 58th Street near the West Side Highway. Mamdouh was arrested by three detectives at about the same time on the corner of West 57th Street and Ninth Avenue.

Asylum Claim

Ferhani came to the U.S. in 1995 from Algeria with two siblings and his parents, who secured asylum, Kelly said. Ferhani, who was granted permanent residency under the asylum claim, has lived in Queens since, Kelly said. He was arrested at least once before and has served time in New York’s jail on Rikers Island, Kelly said.

Mamdouh, a livery service dispatcher, is a U.S. citizen by virtue of his parents’ naturalization.

“We are concerned about ‘lone wolves’ acting against New York City in the wake of the killing of bin Laden,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. He added that the plot was the 13th thwarted since 9/11.

At an appearance in state court in Manhattan, Steven Fusfeld, a lawyer for Mamdouh, said his client’s circumstances differed from Ferhani’s and that they shouldn’t be treated the same.

“My client said he is not guilty of these crimes,” Fusfeld said after the arraignment. Ferhani’s attorney, Stephen Pokart, told the judge: “Mr. Ferhani tells me he hasn’t committed any crime at all.”

Judge Melissa Jackson ordered them held without bail and scheduled their next appearance for May 17.

Ferhani and Mamdouh were charged under New York state law with conspiracy in the second degree as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy in the second degree as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree as a crime of terrorism and attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism. The maximum sentence they face is life in prison without parole.

Last year, four men arrested as part of an FBI sting operation were convicted in Manhattan federal court for plotting to blow up synagogues in New York and fire heat-seeking missiles at military planes. They face as long as life in prison when they are sentenced on June 7.

Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan who drove a bomb-laden vehicle into New York’s Times Square on May 1, 2010, was sentenced in October by a federal judge to life in prison for the failed terrorist attack.

The current case is part of a state probe.

In today’s complaint against Mamdouh and Ferhani, an undercover officer described an April conversation about planting bombs in synagogues, in which Mamdouh noted the importance of paying for things in cash rather than credit cards, so they wouldn’t get arrested like “the one that put the car in Times Square.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at kfreifeld@bloomberg.net. Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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