NEW YORK, N.Y. – An “al-Qaida sympathizer” accused of plotting to bomb police and post offices in New York City as well as U.S. troops returning home remained in police custody after an arraignment on numerous terrorism-related charges.
Jose Pimentel of Manhattan was described by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Sunday news conference announcing Pimentel’s arrest as “a 27-year-old al-Qaida sympathizer” who was motivated by terrorist propaganda and resentment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police had to move quickly to arrest Pimentel on Saturday because he was ready to carry out his plan.
“He was in fact putting this bomb together,” Kelly said. “He was drilling holes and it would have been not appropriate for us to let him walk out the door with that bomb.”
Manhattan assistant district attorney Brian Fields said Pimentel, a convert to Islam, “was approximately one hour from completing these explosive devices.”
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Ten years after 9-11, New York remains a prime terrorism target. Bloomberg said at least 14 terrorist plots, including the latest alleged scheme, have targeted the city since the Sept. 11 attacks. No attack has been successful, however. Pakistani immigrant Faisal Shahzad is serving a life sentence for trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010.
Kelly said Sunday that Pimentel was energized and motivated to carry out his plan by the Sept. 30 killing of al-Qaida’s U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
“He decided to build the bomb August of this year, but clearly he jacked up his speed after the elimination of al-Awlaki,” Kelly said.
An unemployed U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic, Pimentel was “plotting to bomb police patrol cars and also postal facilities as well as targeted members of our armed services returning from abroad,” Bloomberg said.
He also talked of bombing a police station in Bayonne, New Jersey, Kelly said.
New York police had him under surveillance for at least a year and were working with a confidential informant; no injury to anyone or damage to property is alleged, Kelly said. In addition, authorities have no evidence that Pimentel was working with anyone else, the mayor said.
“He appears to be a total lone wolf,” the mayor said. “He was not part of a larger conspiracy emanating from abroad.”
At Pimentel’s arraignment, his lawyer Joseph Zablocki said his client’s behaviour leading up to the arrest was not that of a conspirator trying to conceal some violent scheme. Zablocki said Pimentel was public about his activities and was not trying to hide anything.
“I don’t believe that this case is nearly as strong as the people believe,” Zablocki said. “He (Pimentel) has this very public online profile. … This is not the way you go about committing a terrorist attack.”
Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, was denied bail and remained in custody. The bearded, bespectacled man wore a black T-shirt and black drawstring pants and smiled at times during the proceeding. His mother and brother attended the arraignment, Zablocki said.
Pimentel is accused of having an explosive device Saturday when he was arrested, one he planned to use against others and property to terrorize the public. The charges accuse him of conspiracy going back at least to October 2010, and include first-degree criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, and soliciting support for a terrorist act.
Bloomberg said at the news conference that Pimentel represents the type of threat FBI Director Robert Mueller has warned about as U.S. forces erode the ability of terrorists to carry out large scale attacks.
“This is just another example of New York City because we are an iconic city … this is a city that people would want to take away our freedoms gravitate to and focus on,” Bloomberg said.
Kelly said a confidential informant had numerous conversations with Pimentel on Sept. 7 in which he expressed interest in building small bombs and targeting banks, government and police buildings.
Pimentel also posted on his website trueislam1杭州龙凤 and on blogs his support of al-Qaida and belief in jihad, and promoted an online magazine article that described in detail how to make a bomb, Kelly said.
Among his Internet postings, the commissioner said, was an article that states: “People have to understand that America and its allies are all legitimate targets in warfare.”
The New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division was involved in the arrest. Kelly said Pimentel spent most of his years in Manhattan and lived about five years in Schenectady. He said police in the Albany area tipped New York City police off to Pimentel’s activities.
Asked why federal authorities were not involved in the case, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said there was communication with them but his office felt that given the timeline “it was appropriate to proceed under state charges.”
In another state terrorism prosecution, two men were arrested in May after they allegedly told an undercover detective about their desire to attack synagogues.
A grand jury declined to indict Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh on the most serious charge initially brought against them – a high-level terror conspiracy count that carried the potential for life in prison without parole. They were, however, indicted on lesser state terror and hate crime charges, including one punishable by up to 32 years behind bars.
Attorneys for Ferhani said hate crime charges and a rarely used state terrorism law were misapplied to what they have called a case of police entrapment.
About 1,000 of the city’s roughly 35,000 officers are assigned each day to counterterrorism operations. The NYPD also sends officers overseas to report on how other cities deal with terrorism. Through federal grants and city funding, the NYPD has spent millions of dollars on technology to outfit the department with the latest tools – from portable radiation detectors to the network of hundreds of cameras that can track suspicious activity.
Alexis Smith, 22, who lives in an apartment in the same building as Pimentel, said she was shocked that he was a suspect in a terrorist plot. “He was always very courteous to us,” she said, adding that Pimentel helped her carry groceries and luggage into the building.
“It’s nice to know he was only working alone,” she said.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Colleen Long and AP video journalist David R. Martin contributed to this report from New York. AP writer Samantha Gross also contributed to this report.