WASHINGTON—Four men from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago were charged on Saturday with conspiring to blow up New York's Kennedy International Airport in an alleged plot that New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said illustrated a growing concern about Muslim radicalism in Caribbean nations.
Federal officials said the suspected plotters, who include a former member of Guyana's parliament, were planning to bomb the airport's jet-fuel supply tanks and pipeline. They said the alleged plotters included a former airport cargo employee from Guyana who conducted video and photo surveillance of the airport and that they'd used Google Earth to map the area in anticipation of the attack.
The plot never got beyond the planning stage, federal officials said, but they called the plot "chilling" and described the men as "very determined."
Federal authorities were holding one of the men in New York while two others were being held in Trinidad. The fourth suspect was still at large.
The government said it learned of the plot from a paid police informant who'd accompanied one of the men on his airport surveillance rounds. The informant, who'd been twice convicted on drug charges, had been on the government payroll since 2004, according to a footnote in the indictment.
According to the indictment, the informant recorded the man, former airport worker, Russell Defreitas, a Guyana native who holds U.S. citizenship, boasting that the attack would "destroy the economy of America for some time" and would be especially demoralizing for Americans because the airport is named for assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
"Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States," Defreitas is alleged to have told the informant in a taped conversation. "To hit John F. Kennedy, wow . . . They love John F. Kennedy like he's the man . . . If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice."
Defreitas was in custody in Brooklyn and appeared before a U.S. magistrate in New York City on Saturday.
Two other men, Abdul Kadir, whom U.S. officials described as a member of the Guyanese Parliament and the mayor of Linden, Guyana, and Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad, were in custody in Trinidad.
A fourth defendant, Abdel Nur, a citizen of Guyana, remained at large.
U.S. officials said they would seek all the defendants' extraditions.
The Guyanese government denied that Kadir had ever held a government position, but acknowledged that he'd served in parliament as a member of the opposition People's National Congress Reform party.
In the indictment, U.S. officials said both Kadir and Nur are longtime associates of leaders of Jamaat al-Muslimeen, a fundamentalist organization that tried to overthrow the Trinidad and Tobago government in 1990.
The indictment alleges that Ibrahim was planning to send "an emissary" overseas to present the plan to other extremists for their support.
The role of Muslims from the Caribbean was highlighted by both Kelly and Kenneth L. Wainstein, the assistant U.S. attorney general for national security.
Drawing a contrast with previous plots with ties to Pakistan and the Arab world, Kelly called the plot "at once different and similar to what we have seen before."
"Different in its distinct ties to the Caribbean, a region that is rarely thought of in terms of terrorism, but of increasing concern to us as a crucible in the foment of Islamic radicalism," he said.
Wainstein said that the suspects "sought to combine an insider's knowledge of JFK Airport with the assistance of Islamic radicals in the Caribbean to produce an attack that they boasted would be so devastating to the airport that `even the Twin Towers can't touch it."
The indictment portrays Defreitas as the key operative in the plot, but describes Kadir as its intellectual driver. While Defreitas was in charge of photographing and videotaping the airport, it was Kadir who named the operation "chicken farm" and who proposed conducting it in the early morning to minimize the killing of innocents, according to the indictment. Kadir also determined that penetrating one of the tanks would require two explosive charges.
Kadir, who the indictment said was trained as an engineer, was sharply critical of the results of Defreitas' airport surveillance and "told them to use Google Earth software to get more detailed pictures."
The indictment says the police informant met Defreitas at a Queens mall in July 2006, and that it was in August that Defreitas first mentioned that there were "brothers who wanted to do something bigger than the World Trade Center."
The indictment said Defreitas said that "the brothers" were not Arabs but were from Trinidad and Guyana.
The police informant traveled to Guyana in September where he met with Defreitas and two others identified only as Individuals A and C to discuss the plot, the indictment alleges. He returned to the United States Oct. 27.
The plotters originally considered two proposals, according to the indictment, but rejected one that would have smuggled terrorists into the United States in favor of the plot to bomb the airport fuel line because, the indictment said, "it would cause greater destruction than the Sept. 11 attacks."
According to the indictment, Defreitas told the informant he wanted to get back at the U.S., claiming that while working at the airport, he saw military parts being shipped to Israel "including missiles that he felt would be used to kill Muslims." The indictment quotes Defreitas as wanting "to do something to get those bastards."
The indictment says that authorities taped the informant's phone calls with Defreitas and videotaped conversations in the informant's car.
At one point, Defreitas told another plotter that he had "seen Pat Robertson on television predicting that a disaster would hit the U.S. and that a tsunami would hit several states." The indictment said Defreitas noted,
"So he's probably not too far off, huh?"
Defreitas said that the plot would result in the destruction of Kennedy, "that only a few people would escape," and because of the underground pipes, "part of Queens would explode."
Defreitas suggested that he and the informer would "get our blessings and our reward" and a "place in paradise."
Trinidad Police Commissioner Trevor Paul said he could not yet confirm links between the suspects and Jamaat al Muslimeen group led by Muslim leader Yasin Abu Bakr, but the country's attorney general, John Jeremie, said "we do have some indication there is a connection."
In 1990, Bakr led 113 members of his organization in the Western Hemisphere's lone Islamic revolt—a six-day coup attempt during which 24 people were killed.
In December, Bakr was acquitted of murder conspiracy charges but he still faces trial on charges of incitement, sedition and terrorism stemming from televised statements he made during a sermon on Nov. 4, 2005, at his mosque just outside Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital.
Jeremie said Trinidad had been cooperating with the FBI "for some time" on the case and had been forced to move against Kadhir, who was about to travel to Venezuela and then on to Iran for an Islamic conference.
"We were about to lose control of events," Jeremie said. He said that Trinidadian authorities arrested Kadhir even though they had not yet received an arrest warrant from the United States "on the basis of the relationship that had developed over the last year or so between our people."
But Jeremie said they'd been unable to nab Nur because the warrant arrived too late.
(Clark reported from Washington; Charles, of The Miami Herald, reported from Miami.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.