Prosecutors: Case of NYers accused of synagogue-bomb plot won't be about ties to terror groups

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — The case against four men accused of plotting to bomb New York synagogues and shoot down military planes will not focus on whether they were members of a terrorist group, a federal prosecutor said Friday.

That appeared to sit well with the judge, who said she had been referring to the case privately as "the un-terrorist case."

The trial is "going to be about whether these guys were going to blow something up," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin said at a pretrial hearing, and a fellow prosecutor said the government will not present any evidence of membership in terrorist groups.

"It's not going to be about Al-Qaida, and it's not going to be about foreign terrorist organizations," Raskin said.

James Cromitie, 44; Onta Williams, 32; David Williams, 28; and Laguerre Payen, 27, are accused of placing what they thought were bombs outside two Bronx synagogues. They are also accused of planning to use what they thought was a live Stinger missile against planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, the small city north of New York where the suspects are all from.

The FBI was in on the case from the start, and the weapons were fakes. All four men have pleaded not guilty and could face up to life in prison if convicted.

The defense claims the men were entrapped into the bombs-and-missile scheme by a federal informant and would not have undertaken it on their own. Defense attorneys allege that inducements ranging up to $250,000 were offered. The prosecution acknowledged Friday that at one point the informant promised a BMW to Cromitie.

Federal Judge Colleen McMahon refused last week to dismiss the case on grounds of government misconduct, but said she might reconsider it after the trial. She also said the defense can try to persuade the jury that the defendants were not predisposed to undertake the alleged plot.

During Friday's court session, reacting to complaints from the defense, McMahon ruled that if the prosecution has failed to find evidence of ties to terrorist groups, it must share that fact with the defense before trial.

She said that if, for example, investigators at some point said, "These guys are just clowns in Newburgh" rather than part of a terror network, the defense is entitled to know it.

That prompted Raskin's statement about what the trial will focus on. He implied later that one or more of the defendants might have wanted to belong to a terrorist organization but were never members.

The trial is scheduled to begin June 14, although several defense attorneys asked the judge for more time.