NEW YORK, May 21, 2009 (AFP) - Four men are expected to appear in a federal court Thursday to face charges linked with planning attacks against a Jewish synagogue and US warplanes based at a New York military base, prosecutors said.
The group, residing in New York, where Al-Qaeda extremists with hijacked commercial airliners destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, were arrested Wednesday on charges of plotting to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Bronx borough of New York, according to court documents.
The men, who according to a US congressman were all born in the United States, also "planned to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles," officials said.
The suspects -- identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen -- were all residents of Newburgh and had been tracked for over a year, officials said.
They were set to appear in federal court in White Plains, New York on Thursday. The charges hold a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Three of the men were of Arabic descent and one of Haitian descent, according to New York Governor David Paterson. They all used Arab aliases. New York Representative Peter King said the men were Muslim and that some had converted to Islam in prison.
"This latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Bloomberg was expected for early services Thursday at the Riverdale Jewish Center, along with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The plot involved exploding bombs in cars parked outside the center and the nearby Riverdale Temple in the Bronx, King told CNN.
In their efforts to obtain weapons for the attack, the defendants dealt with an informant from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who provided the group "with an inactive missile and inert explosives."
In June 2008, Cromitie told an FBI informant about his anger over the US-led war in Afghanistan. The suspect then "expressed an interest in doing 'something to America'," the complaint said.
Beginning in October 2008, the informant began meeting with the four men at a house in which the FBI had concealed video and audio equipment.
The group "expressed desire" to attack targets in New York, and Cromitie "asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives," court documents said.
In April 2009, the group agreed on the synagogue they intended to attack and proceeded to conduct surveillance, including taking photographs of the warplanes at the military base.
"As alleged in the complaint, the defendants wanted to engage in terrorist attacks," said acting US attorney Lev Dassin.
"Fortunately, the defendants sought the assistance of a witness cooperating with the government. While the weapons provided to the defendants were fake, the defendants thought they were absolutely real."
King warned that "this would have been a tragic loss of life if the FBI and the NYPD (New York Police Department) had not been monitoring it.
"Thank God for the NYPD and it shows what a real threat we face from homegrown terrorists, and it shows especially those of us living in New York, we live with this every day," he said, warning that "we can never let our guard down and we have to be extremely vigilant."