Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- New York prosecutors charged a Manhattan man and alleged al-Qaeda sympathizer with plotting to bomb government offices and police vehicles in the metropolitan area as part of an effort to kill federal employees and military personnel.
Jose Pimentel, who police said was under surveillance for more than a year, was motivated in part by the U.S. government’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen affiliated with the terrorist group whose online magazine, “Inspire,” published bomb-making instructions, prosecutors said.
An unemployed resident of Washington Heights and a native of the Dominican Republic, Pimentel’s arrest yesterday followed by almost two months New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s statement that authorities were on alert for revenge attacks following al-Awlaki’s killing in a drone strike in Yemen. The cleric had followers in the U.S., including in New York City, Kelly said Sept. 30.
“The suspect was a so-called lone wolf motivated by his own resentment of the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as inspired by al-Qaeda propaganda,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of Pimentel, 27, last night at a press conference. “He was not part of a larger conspiracy emanating from abroad.”
Asked the FBI
New York police repeatedly approached the FBI seeking to have them take part in the case, a person familiar with the matter said. The FBI didn’t participate due to the possibility of entrapment tied to a police informant, said the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public.
Bloomberg said the arrest foiled the 14th terrorist plot targeting New York City since 2001. Some have involved individual plotters or were conspiracies brought to light as a result of sting operations.
Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to driving an explosives-laden car into New York’s Times Square in May 2010. Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in February 2010 to supporting al-Qaeda and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in a 2009 plot to detonate bombs on New York subways. And a jury convicted four men of planning to bomb Bronx synagogues in May 2009 and obtain heat-seeking missiles to fire at military aircraft.
Pimentel was charged with one count of criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, two counts of conspiracy and one count of soliciting or providing support for an act of terrorism, according to the complaint. He faces as long as 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the most serious counts.
Kelly said Pimentel, also identified in the criminal complaint as Muhammad Yusuf, picked up the pace of his alleged plot after the assassination of al-Awlaki.
“We know he attempted to contact al-Awlaki,” Kelly said at the press conference. “The death of Anwar al-Awlaki is what motivated him and increased his tempo significantly.”
Pimentel talked with a confidential police informant about his plans, according to the complaint. In a Sept. 7 recorded conversation, Pimentel “clearly expressed” to the informant his intent to build small bombs and to target government establishments, police buildings and banks, prosecutors said.
Pimentel allegedly told the informant they could buy the bomb components at a Home Depot store, prosecutors said. On Oct. 23, New York police officers followed Pimentel and the informant to a Manhattan “99-cents” store, which generally sell a variety of low-cost house-wares and other items. The suspect bought a clock similar to one pictured in the Inspire article, “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” according to the complaint.
Five days later, the informant and Pimentel went to a Home Depot outlet in the Bronx, where they bought work gloves, decorative lights and elbow piping, again following the instructions in the Inspire magazine article, according to prosecutors.
Pimentel also gave the informant matches, batteries and drill bits, items either listed in the article or needed to build the bomb, according to the complaint.
Terrorism cases are traditionally handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors. A decade ago, New York legislators passed laws allowing such prosecutions in New York state courts, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said at the press conference.
Kelly said the New York police department took control of the case and made the arrest without federal support because the suspect appeared too far along in his plans.
“There’s an assessment process that’s engaged in by the federal authorities with the U.S. attorney,” Kelly said. “We just believed we couldn’t let it go any further; we had to act yesterday.”
Vance said his office had communicated with federal authorities.
“The collective belief was that it was appropriate to proceed under state charges,” Vance said.
The FBI decided not to take part in the case because federal investigators became concerned about entrapment issues, specifically whether the police informant was pushing the defendant to move forward with a bombing plot, the person familiar with the matter said. The New York City Police Department often works with the FBI as a partner in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“The suspect’s own words and actions speak for themselves.” Paul Browne, a spokesman for Kelly, said in an e-mail.
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Vance, declined to comment on whether the FBI declined to take part, saying the complaint “speaks for itself.”
Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor who would likely direct any federal terrorism investigation in New York, declined to comment.
The FBI and federal prosecutors have repeatedly teamed up with the NYPD on other terrorism-related cases, including the probe of Shahzad in the Times Square bombing attempt.
Another was the case of Nicholas Lahines, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, man who in May was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors in Bharara’s office with attempting to make and sell explosives. Lahines was arrested after police officers found eight cardboard cylindrical objects containing explosives.
He has pleaded not guilty and his case has been adjourned for “ongoing plea discussions,” according to court records.
In another case, brought by Vance’s office in May, the district attorney charged Ahmed Ferhani, a native of Algeria, and Moroccan immigrant Mohamed Mamdouh, both residents of Queens, New York, in a sting operation involving an alleged attack upon a New York synagogue.
The two men are charged with allegedly paying an undercover police agent for two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver, ammunition and a deactivated grenade. The men were described as “Islamic extremists” by Vance.
Pimentel’s First Hearing
The first court appearance in Pimentel’s case occurred late last night, when he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court in front of Judge Abraham Clott. He was ordered held without bail pending his next court date, scheduled for Nov. 25 for possible grand jury action, said Joan Vallero, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, in an e-mail.
Pimentel is being detained in the Manhattan Detention Complex, according to the New York City Department of Correction. He is being represented by Joseph Zablocki of the Legal Aid Society, who didn’t return calls seeking comment.
According to the complaint filed by Vance’s office, Pimentel has maintained a website since October 2010 called “True Islam” that contains a link to the Inspire article. The website “strongly advocates the commission of violence against U.S. citizens” and lists army bases, police stations and airports as “legitimate targets,” according to the complaint.
On Nov. 4, Pimentel was recorded at his apartment showing the informant how to build the bomb, following the instructions in the article, the complaint states.
On Nov. 19, Pimentel was recorded on video at his apartment drilling holes into three pipes as per the instructions in the Inspire article, and was subsequently arrested by police, who seized the bomb components, according to the complaint.
After his arrest, Pimentel told police that Islamic law requires true Muslims to “wage war” against the U.S. in return for its invasion of Muslim lands, which includes assassinations of figures ranging from civilian government workers to politicians, according to prosecutors.
The government said in court papers that Pimentel admitted buying the components for the bomb, and said that he was about an hour away from finishing construction of the explosive when he was arrested.
Police departments in the Albany area gave the NYPD information about Pimentel more than two years ago, while he was living in the upstate city of Schenectady and talking about traveling to Yemen for training before returning to New York to become a “martyr in the name of Jihad,” Kelly said.
Pimentel lived in Schenectady for about five years and returned to Washington Heights last year, Kelly said.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
The case is People v. Pimentel, 084689/2011, Criminal Court for the City of New York (New York County).
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan at email@example.com; Henry Goldman in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org; Patricia Hurtado in New York federal court at email@example.com.