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Four charged with terror plot against Air Guard base, Jewish facilities

WASHINGTON -- Less than a month after the sentencing of five defendants found guilty in a terror plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., authorities say they have foiled another terrorist plot against an Air National Guard base and a synagogue and Jewish community center in New York.

The FBI and New York police arrested four suspects May 20 who allegedly were planning to shoot down military planes at the New York Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., and blow up a synagogue and Jewish community center in the Bronx.

James Cromitie, the alleged group leader, as well as David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, FBI officials said. The first charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and the latter a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.

Authorities made the arrests during the evening as the defendants were preparing to carry out their planned attacks, officials said. The suspects intended to use devices containing C-4 plastic explosives to attack the synagogue and community center, they said.

From there, the defendants allegedly planned to head north to the Air Guard base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh with what they thought was an activated Stinger surface-to-air missile to shoot down military aircraft, officials said.

The defendants believed the weapons had been provided through Jaysh-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group based in Pakistan, officials said. However, their supplier actually was an undercover FBI informant who provided them inert C-4 plastic explosives and a deactivated Stinger, they said.

FBI officials said the informant began meeting with Mr. Cromitie in October at a house in which they had concealed video and audio equipment to capture evidence as the suspects planned their attacks.

The suspects selected their targets last month and began conducting surveillance and taking photographs of the Air Guard base, officials said. Late last month, Mr. Cromitie and David Williams also purchased a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol to use during the planned attacks, officials said.

The suspects, all Muslims, said they wanted to carry out a jihad, or holy war, because of operations under way in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters. All four suspects have criminal records, but none appeared to be part of al-Qaida, he said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Lev. L. Dassin praised the cooperative investigation that included the Air Force Office of Special Investigations as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI, New York Police Department, New York State Police and New York State Office of Homeland Security.

"The defendants planned to strike military planes with surface-to-air guided missiles and to destroy a synagogue and a Jewish community center with C-4 plastic explosives," he said. "Thanks to the extraordinary, collaborative work of our law enforcement partners, the defendants' plans were thwarted and the defendants are under arrest."

The five would-be Fort Dix attackers sentenced last month, all Muslim immigrants, were arrested in May 2007. Four were sentenced to life in prison, and the fifth received a 33-year sentence.

If you have observed suspicious or criminal activity contact AFOSI at 805-606-1852 or the Law Enforcement Desk at 805-606-3911.