Two Queens men were arrested last week and charged with plotting to blow up synagogues in Manhattan. Ahmed Ferhani, 26, was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday. His alleged accomplice, Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, is scheduled to appear in court on June 2, according the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. They face life in prison, if convicted.
During a seven-month undercover investigation by the NYPD Intelligence Division, Ferhani and Mamdouh, both of Whitestone, allegedly told an undercover officer how they had learned to make bombs and were planning to target Jews by blowing up Manhattan synagogues, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a press conference from City Hall last Thursday, where he was joined by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Mayor Bloomberg.
During the sting operation, Ferhani, a native of Algeria, and Mamdouh, a native of Morocco, also purchased some weapons from an undercover cop, offering a down payment of $100 on the $700 total for two operable Browning semi-automatic pistols, one operable Smith and Wesson revolver, ammunition and one inert grenade, the officials said.
Simply put, Vance said, the defendants’ plans were to “get guns, get explosives, blow up synagogues and kill Jews.” But Ferhani and Mamdouh did not give the names of any specific synagogues they planned to hit.
Vance also noted that taped conversations revealed the two men’s desire for jihad and that they had a “vehemently anti-Semitic viewpoint.”Ferhani and Mamdouh said they were angry that Muslims around the world are “being treated like dogs,” according to police. Ferhani also discussed growing a beard and payos, Orthodox sidelocks, to disguise himself as a Hasidic Jew in order to carry out the plot.
When asked how successful the men would have been with their plan had they not been caught, Kelly said they “had the potential to cause great mayhem.”
Officials said the two were “lone wolves” with no ties to al-Qaeda, and were also considering an attack on the Empire State Building.
At around 6 p.m. on May 12, detectives in six unmarked police vehicles converged on a gray, late model Toyota Corolla occupied by Ferhani.Mamdouh was arrested by three detectives at about the same time on the corner of West 57th Street and Ninth Avenue.
“While there are no specific plots targeting New York City in the wake of bin Laden’s death this latest case reminds us that we must remain vigilant every day using officers and detectives like those who helped bring this case to a safe and successful conclusion,” Kelly said.
Ferhani supported Palestinians against Israel and expressed interest in going to Gaza to fight. He said that once while he was in jail at Rikers Island a Palestinian inmate taught him how to make a bomb using a light bulb. Police are still investigating that claim.
Charles Bilal, who has been an Imam at Rikers for the last 23 years, said he has never met Farhani nor witnessed the radicalization of any Muslims at the jail.
“That behavior is condemned by the entire Muslim faith,” Bilal said of the plot by Ferhani and Mamdouh. “It is not part of our faith to blow up religious institutions.”
When asked where he thinks this type of homegrown terrorism originates, Bilal said, “I wonder that myself,” adding that the duo’s actions serve to tarnish the image of Muslims.
“This type of behavior in the name of religion casts dark shadows on our faith,” Bilal said. “But when it happens all we can do is condemn it.”
Ferhani and Mamdouh are charged with second-degree conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, second-degree conspiracy as a hate crime, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism and first-degree attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism.
The FBI typically handle terror-related cases, but decided not to in this instance because the charges grew out of an area investigation and did not pose a national threat, according to Kelly.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said he was briefed by Kelly regarding the two terrorists and was informed that the two wanted to bomb area synagogues besides ones in Manhattan and the Empire State Building.
Halloran has been in talks with Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of the Bayside Chabad and discussed hosting training sessions that will be open to the public on how to detect warning signs in public school students and safety measures that religious institutions can take.
“Whitestone is a fairly affluent neighborhood where all live together well,” Halloran said. “It just shows how low-key terrorists can be. They could have lived anywhere.”
Last year, another Queens terrorist, Najibullah Zazi, pleaded guilty to allegedly plotting to blow up trains at the Grand Central and Times Square stations with two accomplices, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay. The three men lived in Flushing and had attended Flushing High School together. Mamdouh also attended the same school, but it is unclear if he knew Zazi and his buddies.
Zazi had been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn until April 2010 when he was moved to a secret location, according to the Daily News. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 25.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said that the Jewish community should continue to be vigilant against the threat of terrorism and the government must do its part to help protect them.
Lancman supported the Nonprofit Homeland Security Preparedness Study Act, which requires the state to study the security needs of nonprofits and determine how it can help protect them from the threat of terrorism, which was passed by then Gov. David Paterson in 2009.
“The sad reality is that the Jewish community in New York and around the world is constantly the subject of terrorist plots,” Lancman said Tuesday. “It is a threat that I know the state and federal government take seriously, but one that we have to be concerned about day in and day out.”