Suspects Aimed To Commit Jihad at Riverdale Jewish Center


riverdale-shulFour men arrested after planting what they thought were explosives near a shul and community center and plotting to shoot down a military plane were bent on carrying out a holy war against America, authorities said today. The suspects were arrested last night, shortly after planting a 37-pound mock explosive device in the trunk of a car outside the Riverdale shul and two mock bombs in the backseat of a car outside the Jewish Center, a few blocks away, authorities said. Police blocked their escape with an 18-wheel truck, smashing their tinted SUV windows and while apprehending the unarmed suspects.At a news conference outside the Bronx temple, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly quoted one of the men as saying, “If Jews were killed in this attack … that would be all right.”

James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh, were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

“They stated that they wanted to commit Jihad,” Kelly said. “They were disturbed about what happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed.”

An official told The Associated Press that three of the men are converts to Islam. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation. Three of the defendants are U.S. citizens and one is of Haitian descent, officials said.

Payen occasionally attended a Newburgh mosque. His statements on Islam often had to be corrected, according to Assistant Imam Hamin Rashada, who met Payen through a program that helps prisoners re-enter society.

The defendants are due in federal court today in suburban White Plains.

Acting U.S. Attorney Lev L. Dassin said the defendants planned to detonate a car with plastic explosives to destroy the temple and Jewish center.

They also planned to shoot Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles at planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, about 70 miles north of New York City.

The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert C-4 to an informant for the defendants.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly met privately with congregants today inside the Riverdale Temple.

“The shock and being floored was followed by relief,” David Winter, executive director of the Riverdale Jewish Center, said afterward.

Bloomberg warned against stereotypes, emphasizing that the temple is open to people of all faiths, including a Muslim girl who sometimes prays there.

Kelly said the temple may have been chosen because of “convenience” – it is near a highway. He said the suspects had scouted the location twice before.

Kelly said the uniformed officers who flooded the neighborhood were there to improve residents’ “comfort level,” even though “No one was at risk. This was a very tightly controlled operation.”

“It’s a little scary being so close to home, but you have to just move on sometimes,” said Maria Patuhas, 18, a senior at the Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy, across the street from the temple.

Officials told The Associated Press the arrests came after a nearly yearlong undercover operation that began in Newburgh.

“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 City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. The mayor is expected to appear at Riverdale Jewish Center morning services with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

The defendants, in their efforts to acquire weapons, dealt with an informant acting under law enforcement supervision, authorities said. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert C-4 to the informant for the defendants, a federal complaint said.

In June 2008, the informant met Cromitie in Newburgh and Cromitie complained that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and he was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces, officials said.

Cromitie also expressed an interest in doing “something to America,” they said in the complaint.

In October 2008, the informant began meeting with the defendants at a Newburgh house equipped with concealed video and audio equipment, the complaint said.

Beginning in April 2009, the four men selected the synagogue and the community center they intended to hit, it said. They also conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard Base, it said.

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued a statement praising law enforcers “for their efforts in helping to prevent any harm to either Jewish institutions or to our nation’s military.”

“We repeat the American Muslim community’s repudiation of bias-motivated crimes and of anyone who would falsely claim religious justification for violent actions,” the statement said.

Rep. Peter King, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the case following the arrests.

“This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists,” said King, of New York.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said if there can be any good news out of this case it’s that “the group was relatively unsophisticated, penetrated early and not connected to any outside group.”

“The shocking plan to blow up a Jewish house of prayer with what the jihadist terrorists thought were C-4 explosives is dramatic proof that the dangers from such fanaticism have not passed and that American Jews must maintain their vigilance,” said a statement released by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group.

The defendants were jailed Wednesday night and couldn’t be contacted for comment. The FBI didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking information on whether the men had lawyers.

{CBS Radio/ Newscenter}


  1. Please. Let’s get our terms correct. You refer to “a shul and community center.” The so-called “community center” is probably referring the Riverdale Jewish Center, which is a modern Orthodox synagogue and not a community center. That would leave the “shul” as being the Riverdale Temple, which would not be an Orthodox synagogue. Many of us cannot see using the word “shul” for a non-Orthodox house of worship, and we certainly cannot condone using the word “temple” for an Orthodox synagogue. “Synagogue” is a generic enough term for the Press to use in any news story (and we should encourage it), and “shul” will confuse us when one is referring to the Riverdale Temple (which is Reform and not the Riverdale Jewish Center). See the Riverdale Temple Web site. Whether the Reform Jewish members of the Press (electronic and otherwise, news writers and reporters and otherwise) have an agenda in calling shuls (even Chasidic) by the word “temples,” or it is 100% pure ignorance, is unimportant; we should resist it and educate.

  2. Typos removed:

    We had only 2 Temples. The third will be built when the Mashiach comes. The Reform movement has historically not believed in a divinely sent savior, so they had decided many decades ago to name their houses of worship temples. Their temples lack the most essential piece of architecture that can make the place a “shul” — a Mechitzah. I don¬ít mind the term Synagogue for a Jewish house of worship (for consistency vis-a-vis the public), but there is no consistency at all among the Jewish denominations when it comes to the Mechitzah and certain critical parts of the worship service.