Two Whitestone men from North Africa made their second appearances in Manhattan criminal court Tuesday after being ordered held without bail last Thursday on terrorism charges.
The charges came in connection with an alleged plot to blow up synagogues and other targets in New York City, the Manhattan district attorney said.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, who is unemployed and moved to America from Algeria, and livery dispatcher Mohamed Mamdouh, an American citizen from Morocco, were arrested about 6 p.m. May 11 at separate locations in Manhattan, the DA said.
They appeared in court Tuesday on charges connected to an alleged plan to bomb any of a number of sites they identified, including an unnamed church in Queens, the Empire State Building and an unidentified “major synagogue” in Manhattan, according to the DA.
Ferhani went before a grand jury and a certificate of affirmative grand jury action was filed, Manhattan DA spokeswoman Diem Tra said. He is scheduled to be arraigned June 16. Mamdouh also appeared in court but did not go before a grand jury because the case was adjourned until June 2 “to allow more time for the grand jury,” Tran said.
The men’s arrests came after a seven-month investigation handled entirely by local authorities because federal law enforcement declined to get involved.
“The defendants were arrested at the conclusion of an investigation that revealed that they intended to bomb synagogues because of their hatred of Jews,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Margaret Gandy said last Thursday in court.
The DA said the two men, who were charged with conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon and attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, were lone wolves and had no direct ties to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
Mamdouh, who has family on Parsons Boulevard in Whitestone, lives elsewhere in the northeast Queens neighborhood, according to a female relative who answered the phone at the Parsons address. He attended Flushing High School, Steven Fusfeld, an attorney for Mamdouh said. Mamdouh came to America in 1999, Kelly said, and he lived on Parsons Boulevard.
Ferhani, of 143rd Street, was a permanent resident of the United States who arrived in America in 1995, Kelly said. He worked as a sales associate at Saks Fifth Avenue and held an associate degree in business from Borough of Manhattan Community College, according to his profile on the social-networking site LinkedIn, where he was a member of groups for animal lovers, actors and models.
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) reacted to the plot in a statement Tuesday.
“These arrests are a chilling reminder that evil lurks even in a quiet, sleepy neighborhood like Whitestone,” Halloran said. “The potential for ‘home-grown’ terrorists in our backyard is especially frightening, and a reminder that nearly a decade after Sept. 11, there are still terrorists in our midst who yearn for our destruction.”
The DA, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly focused most of their remarks at a news conference last Thursday afternoon on the threat to the synagogues, which appeared to be the most immediate, judging by recorded conversations.
According to the charges, Ferhani and Mamdouh had plotted to disguise themselves as Hasidic Jews who would attend services at an unnamed synagogue in Manhattan, hide a bomb and then leave, based on a discussion with an undercover agent in April. The men also spoke with the agent about making bombs, the criminal complaint said.
The men were arrested May 11 after Ferhani allegedly gave an undercover NYPD detective $100 as a down payment for $700 worth of weapons, including a grenade, three handguns, two magazines and two boxes of ammunition, according to court testimony and the charges. Just before being arrested, Ferhani allegedly said he wanted to purchase more guns, silencers, a box of hand grenades, bullet-resistant vests and police radios, Kelly said.
“We decided to make the arrests at this time because of Ferhani’s interest in obtaining weapons and his expressed desire to construct increasingly powerful bombs,” Kelly said.
Mamdouh was not present for the transaction, which allegedly took place in Ferhani’s car on a Midtown Manhattan street, but was on a street in the immediate area at the time of their arrests and allegedly knew about and endorsed the purchase, according to recorded conversations from that evening. Both men face life in prison with no possibility of parole if they are convicted of all the charges they face.
In a conversation seven months ago with an NYPD undercover agent, Ferhani said, “We will blow up a synagogue in Manhattan and take out the whole building,” the DA said. The defendants also talked about blowing up a church in Queens, the complaint said.
Both men’s attorneys said their clients deny taking part in any criminal activity.
“He denies the charges. If he had his druthers, he’d prefer to get out,” Fusfeld said in front of the court house after the hearing Thursday evening.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn
©2011 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.