NEW YORK – A former cargo handler at John F. Kennedy International Airport pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges he orchestrated a terrorist plot to blow up the airport's jet fuel supply.
Russell Defreitas spoke in a barely audible whisper at the appearance in Brooklyn federal court, saying yes twice when U.S. Magistrate Lois Bloom asked him if he understood the proceedings. He appeared in blue and orange prison uniform, hands clasped behind his back and without handcuffs or shackles.
His attorney, Andrew L. Carter Jr., entered the not guilty plea on Defreitas' behalf. Another court appearance was set for Aug. 2, the same day three other suspects in the terrorist plot face an extradition hearing in Trinidad.
Defreitas, Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur were indicted last month on five counts of conspiracy in the alleged plot to attack the airport. The indictment charges the men with conspiring to "cause death, serious bodily injury and extensive destruction" at the airport.
Prosecutors say Defreitas, 63, a Guyana native who worked as a cargo handler at the airport until 1995, hatched the plan to blow up a jet fuel artery that runs through residential neighborhoods and feeds Kennedy airport.
They say the terror cell sought the help of Jamaat al Muslimeen, or JAM, a group based in Trinidad that is known to be violent and involved in killings, kidnappings and weapons trafficking over the past two decades.
Carter said after the hearing Tuesday of the case, "We're conducting our own investigation. We're extremely pleased with what we have found out so far. Our investigation is continuing."
He did not elaborate on what his investigation has found.
The pipeline was designed to shut off when it detects heat, a feature that would have prevented the chain-reaction explosion that the plotters allegedly envisioned, authorities said.