Jose Pimentel, a Manhattan man and alleged al-Qaeda sympathizer accused of trying to build pipe bombs to target U.S. military personnel and civilians, pleaded guilty less than a week before he was set to go on trial.
Pimentel, 29, also known as “Muhammad Yusuf,” entered the plea today to a single count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism. Under an agreement with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Pimentel will serve 16 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision.
Pimentel was charged under New York state terrorism laws passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Ahmed Ferhani, a native of Algeria, and Mohammed Mamdouh, a Moroccan immigrant, the first two people convicted under those laws, were sentenced to prison last year.
The New York City Police Department includes Pimentel’s arrest as of one of 16 foiled terror plots in New York since 2001, while his attorneys said he was tricked by a government informant into committing crimes.
“His violent ideology, and his plan to implement that ideology, came at least in part from Inspire magazine, an al-Qaeda playbook,” Vance said in a statement. “Pimentel’s conviction, and Ferhani’s before him, reminds us that the threat against us from home-grown terrorists is very real.”
Pimentel decided to plead guilty to avoid a possible life sentence that would have come with a conviction, Lori Cohen, one of his attorneys, said today after state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber accepted her client’s plea at a hearing in Manhattan.
“Jose Pimentel will be a relatively young man when he gets out of prison now,” Susan Walsh, another attorney representing Pimentel, said following the hearing.
U.S. investigators didn’t participate in the year-long sting that led to Pimentel’s November 2011 arrest because of the risk of entrapment, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.
Vance said at the time of his arrest that his office had communicated with federal authorities and decided “that it was appropriate to proceed under state charges.”
Pimentel’s attorneys said after a hearing in July they were told that memos and reports they hadn’t seen explained why the federal government declined to intervene in the case. The defense lawyers had planned to argue that Pimentel had been entrapped, or induced to commit a crime, by confidential informants who gave him shelter, food, marijuana and access to a computer, Walsh said.
“He admitted to his crime,” Walsh said. “But the fundamental question, which will not be answered in a court of law, is who is recruiting who in this so-called war on terrorism.”
Pimentel, shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit and a black skull cap, said little during today’s hearing, only speaking to answer Farber’s questions on whether he made his plea voluntarily and understood the consequences.
Sentencing by Farber is scheduled for March 25.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Pimentel was unemployed and living in the Washington Heights neighborhood when he was arrested. Prosecutors said Pimentel was a “lone wolf” who was motivated in part by the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born al-Qaeda cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Pimentel had the makings of at least three pipe bombs when he was arrested, including pipes with holes drilled in them, explosive powder, electronic circuits that could be used as ignition devices, clocks and nails to be used as shrapnel, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said Pimentel talked in recorded telephone conversations about blowing up police stations and making a bomb for $40 or less that could be used to take down a building.
Farber read a statement from Pimentel in which he admitted downloading instructions on how to make pipe bombs from Inspire, an online magazine published by al-Awlaki that contained an article on “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
In the statement, Pimentel said he attempted to make the bombs in order to intimidate the people of New York City and “undermine support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to effectuate the withdrawal of the United States Forces from Arab countries in the Middle East.”
Cohen said in court that evidence in the case would have shown the NYPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation knowingly used a confidential informant who smoked marijuana throughout the course of the investigation, and that numerous people had been previously unsuccessful in attempting to coerce Pimentel into committing a crime.
“The facts of the case would have shown a lot of things,” Cohen said.
The case is People v. Pimentel, 084689/2011, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).