'I would take them down,' NY synagogue plot suspect says in tapes played for jury
NEW YORK – A down-and-out Muslim man, under pressure from a paid FBI informant, admitted he was eager to attack a New York synagogue to vent his rage against Jews and U.S. military might in the Middle East, according to tapes played Tuesday at his trial.
"I don't care if it was a whole synagogue of men," James Cromitie boasted during a visit last year to the informant's bugged home. "I would take them down."
As the day set for the attack approached, prosecutors say, Cromitie responded with even greater enthusiasm.
"I'm ready to do this damn thing," he said. "Anything for the cause."
After bombing two synagogues — sites the men code-named "joints"— they hoped to "do the planes," he added. "I don't care. I'm going in hard."
Cromitie, 43, and three men other co-defendants — Onta Williams, 34, David Williams, 29, and Laguerre 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 in federal court in Manhattan allege that with Hussain's encouragement, Cromitie hatched the scheme to blow up the synagogues in the Bronx with remote-controlled bombs. They also wanted to use surface-to-air missiles to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, a city north of New York City.
Agents arrested the men in 2009 after they planted the devices — fakes supplied by the FBI — in the Bronx while under heavy surveillance.
The informant, Shahed Hussain, met Cromitie in 2008 after being sent by the FBI to infiltrate a Newburgh mosque. After that, the 53-year-old Pakistani immigrant helped make hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes that are the centerpiece of the case.
The defense claims the tapes — with Hussain sometimes coaxing and prodding Cromitie — show the men were entrapped. Prosecutors say Cromitie and his crew were willing participants in a scheme they believed was real.
Hussain began testifying Monday as the government played tapes for the jury. One shown Tuesday featured the informant and Cromitie inside a sport utility vehicle on what prosecutors say was a reconnaissance outside the military base.
At one point, Cromitie referred to the cargo planes there as "beautiful" and "the biggest target."
Hussain testified that a short time later, Cromitie disappeared without explanation and stopped answering his phone calls for several weeks.
When Cromitie resurfaced, he claimed he had been away, working in North Carolina. Hussain told him he was blowing a chance to make $250,000 from his terrorist group and demanded a meeting.
"I was a little angry with him," the informant testified.
In another videotape, Hussain scolds Cromitie for losing touch, telling him, "I put my life on the line."
Cromitie agrees to strike a synagogue, as long as his own safety is ensured.
"I want to get in and get out," he says.
The informant told Cromitie and David Williams that they could remotely detonate the bombs once back at home by using cell phones.
"You sit down here, and it blows up there," he said.
Hearing that, Cromitie and Williams bumped fists.