A former member of Guyana’s parliament and an ex-airline employee may face life in prison after being found guilty of plotting to blow up fuel lines and tanks at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Abdul Kadir, 58, and Russell Defreitas, 67, a former Evergreen Airlines cargo worker, were convicted yesterday by a jury in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry set a Dec. 15 sentencing date.
Kadir, Defreitas and their co-conspirators circulated their plan to an international network of Muslim extremists, the government alleged. The trial began June 30 with opening statements, and the jury deliberated for five days before delivering its verdict.
“The two men at that table are being called to account because in 2007 they had a terrible, criminal plan,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmad told jurors in her July 26 closing argument. “A plan to teach America a lesson. A plan to destroy the economy of New York” and take lives.
Both defendants sat in silence as the verdict was read. Kadir, bald with a white beard, wore a long-sleeve pink shirt. Defreitas, also white-bearded, had on a white jacket. After they shook hands with their lawyers, they were led out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals.
Jurors declined to speak to the press after court.
Lawyers for Defreitas and Kadir said they would appeal the verdict.
“Obviously, he’s totally disappointed, maintains his innocence in this matter as he has throughout,” Kafahni Nkrumah, a lawyer for Kadir, said of his client.
Toni Messina, another lawyer for Kadir, said “there’s quite a few solid appeal issues; some classified information we were not allowed to present to the jury.” She declined to specify the information.
Defreitas and Kadir were found guilty of five conspiracy counts including conspiring to attack a public transportation system, destroy a building, attack aircraft, destroy or damage an international airport and attack a mass transportation facility. Defreitas was convicted of a sixth count, surveillance of a mass transportation facility. Kadir was acquitted of that count.
The plot, hatched by Defreitas in 2006, was foiled in the planning stages with the aid of an informant, Steven Francis, according to prosecutors. The attacks were designed to destroy “the whole of Kennedy,” the largest airport in the New York City area, and the New York borough of Queens, Defreitas said in a taped conversation heard by the jury.
“Clearly without the additional actions of the government, we wouldn’t be here at all,” Mildred Whalen, a lawyer for Defreitas, said after the verdict yesterday, adding that the government, through its informant, got an apartment for Defreitas.
“It was clear these guys couldn’t act on their own,” Whalen said.
Defreitas told investigators that he hoped to profit from the plot through money from backers, Robert Addonizio, a New York City detective assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, testified. The jury heard a recording of the accused plotters discussing how much money they would need from sponsors of the plan. One said they should start negotiations at $1 million.
‘Agitated’ Over Aid
Donald Nero, a Guyanese citizen who previously pleaded guilty in the case, testified that Defreitas was motivated by his agitation over U.S. aid to Israel. Defreitas told Nero he learned that some of the cargo he put on planes at the airport were missiles bound for Israel. Lawyers for Defreitas told jurors testimony in the case showed such cargo wasn’t loaded at JFK.
The JFK plotters conducted surveillance of the airport, including videotaping its buildings, and sought expert advice, financing and explosives, prosecutors said.
Defreitas, who by then no longer worked at the airport, allegedly was sent from Guyana to conduct video surveillance. He identified the target sites and escape routes, in part, using satellite photographs from the Google Earth program.
Defreitas compared the plot to terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in September 2001 when two planes were crashed into the towers.
“Even the twin towers can’t touch it,” he said in one of the conversations that Francis recorded and jurors heard. “This can destroy the economy of America for some time.”
Kadir was an engineer who advised on the technical aspects of the plot, prosecutors allege. Before entering parliament, he was the mayor of Linden, Guyana’s second-largest town, after Georgetown.
Kadir was arrested in 2007 en route to Iran. Prosecutors tried to show he was going there to gain financial and operational support for the plot. Kadir testified at the trial that he was traveling to Iran to ask for money for a mosque and to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s former supreme leader.
The plot members also sought support from Abu Bakr, leader of the group Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which had staged a 1990 coup attempt in Trinidad that resulted in “numerous deaths,” according to court papers.
Kadir’s lawyer said after yesterday’s verdict that his client repudiated the plot because it runs counter to Islam.
‘Atmosphere of Fear’
“There is more than just the evidence that he is coming up against. There’s an atmosphere of fear in the country, of Muslims, of Islam, and fear of terrorism -- particularly in New York,” Nkrumah said in an interview.
Defreitas didn’t testify at the trial. Francis, who became a government informant after a drug conviction, was on the witness stand eight days.
On July 21, Kadir admitted on the witness stand that he sent reports on Guyana’s economy, politics and military to the Iranian ambassador in Venezuela beginning in the 1980s. He said the reports were based on publicly available information and sending them wasn’t illegal. He denied Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller’s suggestion that he was an Iranian spy.
The plot was circulated to radical groups in South America and the Caribbean.
The ultimate goal, prosecutors said, was to reach Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, who is wanted in connection with possible terrorist threats against the U.S. and who is a member of al-Qaeda, the Muslim terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden.
Abdel Nur, a citizen of Guyana, pleaded guilty June 29 to one count of providing support to terrorists. Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad, was granted a separate trial at a later date due to a medical condition.
Defreitas, a U.S. citizen and native of Guyana, pleaded not guilty in 2007. His co-defendants pleaded not guilty in 2008. They’ve been in custody without bail.
The case is U.S. v. Defreitas, 07-cr-00543, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).