NEW YORK – Police said Sunday they had arrested a U.S. citizen who planned to bomb police cars and post offices and kill U.S. servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to protest the American military presence in those countries.
Jose Pimentel, 27, a convert to Islam, had been under surveillance for two years but seemed to have stepped up his bomb-making activities and plotting after the Sept. 30 killing by U.S. forces of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born cleric who was living in Yemen, authorities said. Al-Awlaki was a prominent voice for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of al-Qaida.
Al-Awlaki’s death “really set him off,” police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a Sunday night news conference at City Hall. He called Pimentel a “lone wolf.”
Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Pimentel appeared to have been acting alone and had learned to make bombs by reading an article in al-Awlaki’s online magazine.
Pimentel, who was divorced, went to Home Depot and other stores to buy the bomb-making ingredients, “being careful not to make all these purchases from any one location all the time,” Kelly said. “He wanted to avoid raising any red flags.”
But Pimentel already had raised suspicions when he was living in Schenectady, N.Y., where, according to Kelly, he pondered changing his name to Osama Hussain because of his loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and discussed with associates traveling to Yemen to learn how to wage war on U.S. soil. It was through those associates, who were not identified, that law enforcement officials became aware of Pimentel, Kelly said.
Police burst into Pimentel’s apartment about 3:30 p.m. Saturday and arrested him. Kelly said they had been forced to move quickly because Pimentel was on the verge of finishing one bomb and testing it in a mailbox.
Officials displayed a close-up photograph of Pimentel wearing a black short-sleeve shirt and appearing to be cooking something in a small pot. They also played a video to demonstrate what one of his bombs might have done had it been detonated. It showed a sedan exploding and flames shooting from its interior.
Pimentel, who was born in the Dominican Republic, had lived in Schenectady for about five years before moving to the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan about a year ago, Kelly said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Pimentel had been charged with conspiring to build a bomb for terrorist purposes and with possessing a bomb.
Bloomberg said this was at least the 14th attempt to attack the city that had been foiled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. The previous incidents include an attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, and a plot to blow up subways or other targets in conjunction with the eighth anniversary of the 2001 attacks. In both cases, the men arrested pleaded guilty and said they acted to protest U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both are serving life sentences.
Federal authorities in Washington said that although they were not directly involved in leading the investigation, they were advised of its progress and told that New York police officials decided to arrest the suspect Saturday afternoon because he appeared close to completing a pipe bomb.