Four charged in ‘one of the worst terror plots since 9/11’
Target: Fuel pipelines at JFK
A: Deal a blow to US economy
FOUR Muslim extremists have been charged over a plan to blow up JFK airport in what United States prosecutors called one of the most “chilling” terrorist plots since Sept 11, 2001.
New York’s John F. Kennedy International is one of America’s busiest airports, handling 1,000 flights and more than 120,000 passengers a day.
The four, who included a former airport worker and an ex-Member of Parliament of Guyana, allegedly aimed to blow up the airport’s fuel pipeline.
In an indictment charging the four men, one of them was quoted as saying the attack would “cause greater destruction than in the Sept 11 attacks”, destroying the airport, killing thousands and destroying parts of New York’s borough of Queens, where the pipeline runs through underground.
Officials said the plot was hatched in the United States, but spread to Trinidad and Guyana, tapping into the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, a Muslim extremist network in the Caribbean region.
Among the four charged was a US citizen who once worked as a cargo handler at the airport. This was further evidence of the changing face of the terrorist threat in the US, as more homegrown militants become involved and there is less reliance on Al-Qaeda and Middle Eastern connections.
US Attorney Roslynn Mayskopf said the arrests had prevented “unthinkable” devastation.
“Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction,” she said on Saturday.
But security experts believe that while such an attack would have severely damaged the American economy, it would not have killed many people.
Meanwhile, FBI officials described the militants as “very determined”, given their concerted attempts to gather finance, video surveillance and satellite pictures.
Russell Defreitas, the former cargo handler who was originally from Guyana, was responsible for carrying out surveillance.
He allegedly used his knowledge of airport operations to identify targets and escape routes, and to assess airport security. He also used satellite photographs of the airport downloaded from the Internet.
He said in a conversation recorded secretly by a FBI agent who had infiltrated the group: “Even the Twin Towers cannot touch it. This can destroy the economy of America for some time.”
He also underscored the symbolic importance of blowing up the airport named after the former US president.
“Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States,” he said.
“They love John F. Kennedy like he is the man…If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It is like you can kill the man twice.”
Another taped conversation, in which trained engineer Abdul Kadir explained to his alleged co-conspirators that the fuel tanks would require two explosions, suggested the plotters had some technical expertise.
Defreitas was arrested in New York on Friday.
Kadir, a former parliamentary member in Guyana, and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad and Tobago were arrested in Trinidad in an international counter-terrorist operation and will soon be extradited.
The fourth suspect Abdel Nur, a Guyana citizen, was still at large and believed to be in Trinidad.