NEW YORK – Four men accused of plotting to blow up synagogues and shoot down military planes believed that the scheme concocted in a government sting would kill innocent New Yorkers, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments at the men's trial.
"The defendants thought this was real — real bombs, real missiles — every step of the way," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin told a jury in federal court in Manhattan.
Lawyers for alleged Muslim mastermind James Cromitie and co-defendants Onta Williams, David Williams and Laguerre Payen have accused the government of entrapping harmless dupes with a paid FBI informant posing as a representative of a Pakistani terror organization.
Raskin argued that the men needed no prompting to launch a jihad operation.
"The FBI did exactly what it's supposed to do," he said. "It caught four dangerous men before they could do any real harm. ... Ordinary people wouldn't even dream of what these defendants did."
The prosecutor cited secretly recorded tapes that he said showed Cromitie didn't flinch when the confidential informant, Shahed Hussain, told him he would finance and provide weapons for the attacks.
"He didn't say, 'I'm out of here. This crazy Pakistani is not for me,'" Raskin said. "It wasn't the CI doing any convincing. Cromitie wanted those weapons."
The tapes, he added, showed Cromitie "wanted to be a soldier in America, but not for America."
In his closing argument, Cromitie's attorney attacked the credibility of Hussain, a 53-year-old Pakistani immigrant with a fraud conviction. He accused him of selectively taping his "impoverished and unsophisticated" client to distort the truth, win favor with the FBI and avoid being deported.
Hussain "is a liar, straight up," the lawyer, Vincent Briccetti, told the jury. "He's not just any old liar — he lied to you."
The defense has dismissed the tapes as a "movie written, produced and directed" by the FBI.
"There's no proof James Cromitie had the ability to carry out this type of crime," his lawyer said. "Without the help of the FBI, Cromitie wasn't going to do anything."
The closing arguments were expected to continue Tuesday before the case goes to the jury later this week.
Cromitie, 44, Williams, 34, Williams, 29, and Payen, 28, have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles to kill U.S. officers and employees.
Prosecutors allege that with Hussain's encouragement, Cromitie hatched the scheme to blow up the synagogues in the Bronx with remote-controlled bombs. They say the men also wanted to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y., about an hour north of New York City.
Agents arrested the men in 2009 after they planted the devices — fakes supplied by the FBI — in the Riverdale section of the Bronx while under heavy surveillance.
Hussain testified during 13 days on the witness stand that he met Cromitie in 2008 after being sent by the FBI to infiltrate a Newburgh mosque. After that, Hussain helped make hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes played throughout the trial.
One video shows the men practicing with a shoulder missile launcher and praying together in a bugged warehouse in Connecticut two weeks before the planned attack. In other tapes, Cromitie is overheard ranting about wanting to kill Jews and retaliate against U.S. military aggression in the Middle East.
"I'm ready to do this damn thing," he said. "Anything for the cause."
(This version CORRECTS Cromitie's age to 44, not 43. Corrects neighborhood in the Bronx to Riverdale, not Riversdale.)