Jun 4, 2007
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Four men have been charged with conspiring to blow up jet fuel supply tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Homeland Security sources said there is no current threat at the airport and the attack as planned was "not technically feasible."
The alleged plot did not target airplane flights, officials said.
A wiretap transcript given to CNN by the FBI indicates the alleged plotters targeted the airport because of the popularity its namesake, John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.
"Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow ... they love JFK -- he's like the man," former JFK airport cargo worker Russell Defreitas allegedly said in a telephone conversation monitored by the FBI.
"If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice," Defreitas allegedly added.
At a Justice Department news conference Saturday afternoon, the plotters were described as "a determined group" whose signature was persistence.
A law enforcement source told CNN Saturday evening that the idea for the plot allegedly came from Defreitas, who also apparently recruited the other men. Those three supposedly directed the effort.
Defreitas, 63, a native of Guyana who has been a U.S. citizen since the 1960s, was arrested in Brooklyn, New York, according to the Justice Department. He was arraigned Saturday in federal court in New York.
Abdul Kadir of Guyana, a former member of the Guyana parliament, and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, are in custody in Trinidad. The United States will seek their extradition.
The fourth suspect, Abdel Nur of Guyana, is being sought.
Defreitas was once a contractor for the aviation company Evergreen Eagle, a law enforcement official told CNN. James Nelson, a company spokesman, said the firm is cooperating with authorities, but declined to provide further information.
Defreitas identified targets and escape routes and assessed airport security, the complaint alleges. Officials said the "defendants obtained satellite photographs of JFK airport and its facilities from the Internet and traveled frequently among the United States, Guyana and Trinidad to discuss their plans and solicit the financial and technical assistance of others."
The Justice statement said the men began planning the assault on January 6. A complaint alleges that the plot tapped into an international network of Muslim extremists from the United States, Guyana and Trinidad.
"The defendants had the connections to present their terrorist plot to radical groups in South America and the Caribbean, including senior leadership of Jamaat Al Muslimeen ('JAM'), which was responsible for a deadly coup attempt in Trinidad in 1990," said Mark J. Mershon, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's New York field office. "Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction."
"As the complaint alleges, defendants Kadir and Nur were longtime associates of JAM leaders. Defendant Kareem [Ibrahim] was also preparing to send an emissary overseas to present the plan to extremist networks there when law enforcement stepped in to disrupt it," Mershon said.
An official described the suspects as "al Qaeda wannabes."
In one conversation taped by the FBI, Defreitas allegedly discusses an incident he says motivated him to strike JFK. He claimed he saw military parts being shipped to Israel, including missiles, that he felt would be used to kill Muslims.
He allegedly says he "wanted to do something to get those bastards."
In another recorded conversation with his alleged conspirators in May 2007, Defreitas compared the plot to attack JFK airport with the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, saying, "Even the Twin Towers can't touch it. This can destroy the economy of America for some time," according to Justice officials.
The alleged plot was revealed when the planners tried to recruit a person who was a law enforcement informant, sources said.
The fuel supply for the airport is linked primarily to the Buckeye Pipeline, which distributes fuel and other petroleum products to sites in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
"We were concerned, not only about an attack on the fuel tank farms at JFK but along the 40-mile aviation fuel pipeline that courses its way from Linden, New Jersey, through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens," said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
"The fuel line is the feeding tube that nourishes national and international commerce through LaGuardia and JFK airports."
Kelly said the NYPD's counterterrorism unit conducted a mile-by-mile survey of the pipeline after hearing about the alleged plot.
JFK handles on average more than 1,000 flights daily, about half of which are international flights. Each year, the airport processes about 45 million passengers and more than 1.5 million tons of cargo with an estimated value of $120 billion.
Kadir's wife, Isha, told CNN by telephone from Linden, Guyana, that she is shocked by the allegations.
"You know, my husband -- we are Muslims for 33 years," she said. "And no way, at no time we were ever involved in anything of plots of bombing or any plots against America. We are not a part of that. We have family -- both of us -- in America."
She said her husband was arrested Friday while flying to Caracas, Venezuela, to collect an Iranian visa in order to attend an Islamic conference there. In addition to being a former member of the Guyana parliament, she said, he is a former mayor of Linden.
"We are a mother and a father of nine children and 18 grandchildren," she said. "No way will we get into anything like that."
Asked why she thought her husband was arrested, Isha Kadir said it could be related to his connection to Iran. The family is Shiite, she said, and two of her children studied Islamic culture in Iran. But "we have no problem with the United States," she said.
She said Defreitas, whom she knew as Mohammed, visited Guyana for a week at some point, and that she knew the other suspects but hadn't seen Nur in years and did not know Ibrahim well.
She said she has not spoken to her husband since his arrest, but "the truth will stand out clearly. And I believe in God, and I know that God knows our intention, and he knows, and he will, you know, he will play a part in this."
A written statement from the White House said, "The president has been briefed and updated regularly on the progress of the investigation, and this case is a good example of international counterterrorism cooperation."