NEW YORK – A videotape shows the alleged mastermind of a plot to bomb New York synagogues and shoot down military planes practicing with a shoulder missile launcher and praying two weeks before the planned attack.
The tape played for a jury Tuesday at the federal trial of James Cromitie and three other men capture a paid FBI informant giving him a crash course in a bugged warehouse in Connecticut — part of an elaborate sting in 2009.
"This is the handle, OK?" the informant, Shahed Hussain, tells Cromitie as he holds the weapon on his shoulder.
He instructs Cromitie, "Once we shoot it, then we destroy the thing" by throwing it in the Hudson River.
Cromitie responds that learning to shoot seemed "easy." However, he adds, "I wish you had a blank, so we could take a shot."
He can be heard chuckling at times and seen rubbing his hands together. At the end of the tape, Cromitie, two of his alleged cohorts and the informant bow their heads in prayer.
Cromitie, 43, 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 say the men also wanted to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y., about 50 miles 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.
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 last week as the government played tapes for the jury.