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Trial Starts For Accused In Bronx Synagogue Bomb Plot

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Officers stand guard outside the Riverdale Jewish Center. (AP File Photo)

Officers stand guard outside the Riverdale Jewish Center. (AP File Photo)

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NEW YORK (AP/WCBS 880) — A prosecutor says four men charged with trying to blow up New York synagogues and shoot down military planes were caught on videotape plotting and praying together before setting out to launch the attack.

Prosecutor Adam Hickey told jurors that the case against James Cromitie and his three co-defendants features tapes of thousands of phone conversations, and hours of video.

WCBS reporter Irene Cornell says Hickey argues Cromitie is heard at one point complaining that the best target in New York has already been taken down, but he’d like to hit the George Washington Bridge, a large military transport plane and most of all, a Jewish synagogue.

Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti calls the case a “cinematic extravaganza,” directed and produced by a paid government informant who is a convicted felon and fraudster.

Briccetti calls the defendants “victims of entrapment.”

LISTEN: WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell reports

Cromitie, 44, and three men recruited as lookouts, Onta Williams, 34, David Williams, 29, and Laguerre Payen, 28, have pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles to kill U.S. officers and employees, says the Associated Press.

The men were arrested on May 20, 2009, after they went to the synagogues in Riverdale to plant bombs and prepare to launch missiles at planes coming from the nearby Air National Guard base in Newburgh, unaware that weapons were inert devices supplied by the FBI.

Authorities say the informant, Shaheed Hussain, met Cromitie at the mosque in June 2008. Hussain was posing as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organization.

The informant worked for months on the investigation, testing the defendants repeatedly to see if they were willing to go through with acts of terrorism, Hickey said Tuesday.

“Every one of these defendants jumped at those opportunities without hesitation,” he said. “They were prepared to go all the way through with their destructive and murderous plans.”

The prosecutor warned jurors to reject defense arguments that Hussain entrapped the defendants, but he conceded that the informant “was no wallflower. He acted like a facilitator for a terrorist group, planning, supplying, supporting.”

Briccetti labeled Hussain “a master manipulator” who offered the defendant large sums of money and even a BMW to men who were uneducated and mostly unmotivated. He did so to entrap Cromitie in “a phony plot that he certainly would not have joined otherwise,” the prosecutor said.

The lawyer added: “But for his lies, his tricks, his financial inducements and relentless pressure, James Cromitie and the other defendants could not and would not have been involved in any activity.”

Onta Williams was exposed to Islam in jail but never became a radical, said his attorney, Susanne Body. She argued the government lured him into the scheme as a “bit player” so they could bring a conspiracy case.

“He is not a terrorist,” she said. “He does not hate Jews. He does not hate America.”

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