NEW YORK – Two Muslim militants plotted to cause more death and destruction than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by blowing up John F. Kennedy International Airport six years later, federal prosecutors said Wednesday at the men's terrorism trial.
"We will ask you to hold them accountable ... for a plan that would have taken innocent lives," Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger said in opening statements in federal court in Brooklyn.
Lawyers for Russell Defreitas, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Abdul Kadir, another Muslim defendant from Defreitas' native Guyana, countered by telling the jury that their clients were framed by a government informant.
"Without the government, Russell Defreitas is all sizzle and no steak," said his attorney, Len Kamdang.
Defreitas, 66, a former JFK cargo handler, and Kadir, 58, once a member of Parliament in Guyana, were arrested in 2007 after the informant infiltrated the plot and made a series of secret recordings.
Prosecutors say Defreitas did reconnaissance on the airport, sought the help of a militant Muslim group in Trinidad along with Kadir and dreamt of delivering a devastating economic and psychological blow on a target named after an iconic former U.S. president.
"Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States," Defreitas was recorded saying, according to court papers. "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."
In a guilty plea Tuesday, a third defendant from Guyana, Abdel Nur, admitted that he provided material support of terrorists.
Nur said he told Defreitas, Kadir and a fourth defendant, Kareem Ibrahim, that he would provide them with protection and guidance on a trip to Trinidad and Tobago in May 2007 to buy supplies.
An indictment said the men hoped to "cause greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks." But the plot, which the men code-named Chicken Farm, never got past the planning stages, authorities said.
Nur, Ibrahim and Kadir were brought to New York in 2008 after being taken into custody in Trinidad, where they spent more than a year fighting extradition. A judge there rejected arguments they couldn't get a fair trial in the United States.
Ibrahim's case was severed after he went on a hunger strike in prison and became ill. It was unclear when he would be tried.
Nur faces up to 15 years in prison at sentencing, set for Aug. 5.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of Defreitas and Parliament in 5th paragragh.)