NEW YORK – The FBI arrested four men Wednesday in what authorities called a plot to detonate a bomb outside a Jewish temple and shoot military planes with guided missiles.
Officials said the arrests came after a long-running undercover operation that began in Newburgh, N.Y., about 70 miles north of New York City.
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh, were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The men had planned to detonate a car with plastic explosives outside a temple in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale and to shoot military planes at the New York Air National Guard base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles, authorities said.
The defendants planned to “destroy a synagogue and a Jewish community center with C-4 plastic explosives,” Acting U.S. Attorney Lev L. Dassin said.
The religious targets were the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center, authorities said.
In their efforts to acquire weapons, the defendants dealt with an informant acting under law enforcement supervision, authorities said. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert C-4 to the informant for the defendants, a federal complaint said.
The investigation had been under way for about a year.
In June 2008, the informant met Cromitie in Newburgh, and Cromitie complained that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and he was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces, officials said.
Cromitie also expressed an interest in doing “something to America,” they said in the complaint.
In October 2008, the informant began meeting with the defendants at a Newburgh house equipped with concealed video and audio equipment, the complaint said.
Beginning in April 2009, the four men selected the synagogue and the community center they intended to hit, it said. They also conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard Base, it said.
Rep. Peter King, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the case following the arrests.
“This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists,” said King, of New York.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said if there can be any good news out of this case it’s that “the group was relatively unsophisticated, penetrated early and not connected to any outside group.”
The defendants, all arrested in New York City, were expected to appear in federal court in suburban White Plains today.
They were jailed Wednesday night and couldn’t be contacted for comment. The FBI didn’t immediately return a telephone message Wednesday night seeking information on whether the men had lawyers.