Reporting Paul Murnane
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Less than two weeks after the death of Osama bin Laden, authorities have arrested two men allegedly plotting to blow up area synagogues and possibly the Empire State Building.
The men — both residents of Queens – are U.S. residents of Algerian and Moroccan descent. They were identified by authorities as Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohammed Mehdi Mamdouh, 20.
1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks With More Details On The Alleged Terror Plot
Detectives from the NYPD Intelligence Division arrested the men around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening.
Ferhani and Mamdouh were arraigned in Manhattan court Thursday. They were being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.
The alleged terrorists said nothing in court.
Prosecutors said what was captured on audio by an undercover agent, however, speaks volumes about their motivation.
“They both state unequivocally on the audio recording that they hate Jews,” prosecutor Margaret Gandy said.
CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reported the arrests came after a seven-month NYPD sting operation, which Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said was fueled by hatred.
“If you listen to the rhetoric, if you listen to the tapes in this case, it’s quite clear that there was a vehement anti-Semitic viewpoint on the part of these individuals,” Kelly said. “On the same day after Mamdouh said, ‘I hate Jews,’ Ferhani replied, ‘I want to kill them.’”
Officials said the men were willing to do anything to further their plot against synagogues. According to Kelly, Ferhani discussed the idea of growing a beard and payes to disguise himself as a Hasidic Jew.
Prosecutors said Ferhani wanted to sell drugs and guns to finance the plot in addition to learning Hebrew and principals of the faith so they’d blend in at synagogue services. Gandy said Ferhani wanted to “leave a bomb that would explode after the worshipers had departed and he had as well.”
Mandouh said the two men should use cash and not credit cards so they “wouldn’t get caught like this (expletive) got caught, the one that put the car in Times Square,” referring to failed plotter Faisal Shahzad.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the men “wanted to destroy a major Manhattan synagogue.”
Police said Ferhani purchased two semi-automatic pistols, ammunition and a hand grenade in an undercover operation. Twelve detectives in six unmarked police vehicles converged on the gray, late model Toyota Corolla occupied by Ferhani at 58th Street near the West Side Highway, where he was apprehended.
Mamdouh was arrested by three detectives at about the same time on the corner of West 57th Street and Ninth Avenue, police said.
Bloomberg said that while the raid on bin Laden’s compound was an “important victory” in the nation’s war against terrorism, officials in New York said “we could not rest for a moment.”
However, sources told CBS 2 the suspects’ plan was already in the works at the time of bin Laden’s death and that it is not believed to be in retaliation for the killing.
“We are concerned about ‘lone wolves’ acting against New York City in the wake of the killing of bin Laden. And that’s why the case before us today is so important,” Bloomberg said.
Before being arrested, Ferhani said he wanted to obtain more handguns, silencers, a box of hand grenades, bullet-resistant vests and police radios. He explained that he was fed up with the way Muslims were being treated around the world.
“They’re treating us like dogs,” he allegedly said.
Security cameras now surround the perimeter of Ferhani’s home in Whitestone, Queens. His brother, Mohammad Ferhani, spoke with reporters briefly.
“My brother got arrested and if you do want to get information on that case because I don’t know anything. They’re keeping us like totally blank so if you do want to get information, I suggest the best way for you to get that is to go to court,” he said.
The suspect’s brother went on to suggest to reporters that they look at the family’s history and “all the years we’ve been in this country.”
“Everybody we’ve ever met loved us. You know because we have such a great personality, we look out for the neighbors, we do everything we can,” he said.
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Mamdouh has a pending burglary case in Queens in which he is accused of stealing a computer and some jewelry from a home, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. Ferhani also has a prior record. He was arrested last year for robbing a woman in a Midtown motel.
Stephen Pokart, the attorney for Ferhani, said his client denies the charges against him.
“I haven’t heard any tapes yet. They say they have tapes, maybe they do, maybe they don’t. I haven’t heard them,” Steven Fussfeld, the attorney for Mamdouh, said.
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While the Lincoln Center Synagogue was not identified as the target, the NYPD was standing guard Thursday. Worshipers were stunned to hear about the alleged plot.
“That’s pretty horrible and I’m glad that the city is aware of it,” Helen Segal told CBS 2′s Sean Hennessey.
“We don’t exactly what they’re going to be up to and this is just an indication of how sinister they have really become,” said Victor Paterno, the security director of the synagogue.
Others in the Jewish community expressed great concern over the alleged plot as well.
“Terrorists always try to find some target whether it makes sense or not,” another man said.
“They hate Jews. They want to kill Jews. They want to kill me,” Dov Hikind said. “There needs to be more attention in terms of the security needs of the Jewish community.”
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