The main terrorism charges against two Whitestone men have been dropped by a Manhattan grand jury.
Ahmet Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdough, 20, pleaded not guilty on June 15 to charges that included possession of a weapon as a terror crime. But the grand jury rejected the top charge of conspiracy as a terror crime, which carries a possible life prison sentence. The lesser crimes could bring up to 32 years in prison if convicted.
Ferhani, who is unemployed, moved to the United States with his parents in 1995 from Algeria and they were given asylum. He had been granted permanent resident status, but now faces deportation.
Mamdough immigrated with his family from Morocco in 1999.
Police carried out a seven-month undercover operation of the two men. The defendants allegedly told an undercover officer that they had learned to make bombs and were planning to target Jews by blowing up Manhattan synagogues and the Empire State Building.
During the operation, police say the men purchased weapons, but they were considered lone wolves with no ties to al-Qaeda.
The two were arrested on May 12 in Manhattan. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the FBI did not handle the case because the charges grew out of a local investigation and did not pose a national threat.
In court on June 15, Ferhani’s lawyer said that her client suffers from a “significant psychological problem” that he has borne all his life.
But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. remained firm on the charges.
“A picture emerges from today’s indictment that describes how the defendants plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause,’” Vance said in a prepared statement.
“Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime. Any threats to the safety of New Yorkers will be addressed swiftly and aggressively by this office and our partners in the NYPD,” he concluded.
Ferhani and Mamdough remain in jail, held without bail. Their next court date is Sept. 20.