- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
The José Pimentel I came to know was just the kid I had met at a friend's home a few years ago in Harlem, hanging out, talking and just being a normal guy.
"What's up?" we said to each other in a friendly way, exchanging "pounds," or handshakes.
He was there whenever I would go there to get together with the guys, play video games or meet up before a night out in the city. As the years went on, he became the fixture on the block, no matter the weather, who chatted with tenants and smoked cigarettes.
I would never had thought he was like that. Never ever. I just thought he was a regular Muslim person. I'm just still shocked and astonished by the whole situation.
But I never made him out to be the wannabe terrorist who, authorities say, wanted to blow up targets in New York City.
By the time word spread Sunday night to West 137th Street – my neighborhood, and where Pimentel lived with his mother – many recalled their interactions with him, wondered who he really was, and questioned his true motives.
"I would never had thought he was like that. Never ever," said Joseph Mateo, who knew Pimentel for about two years. "I just thought he was a regular Muslim person. I'm just still shocked and astonished by the whole situation."
"(To think) in the same neighborhood we live in he would have put so many people in harm's way just for whatever he believes in," added Mateo, who said he never heard Pimentel mention anything about hating or attacking America. "It's incredible what people would do."
Pimentel, 27, is a U.S. citizen who was born in the Cerro de Navas, a town in the Dominican Republic near Puerto Plata. He converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Yusuf, and then, authorities said, became an al-Qaida sympathizer who would follow in the footsteps of the American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
That's when Pimentel allegedly set into motion his plan to build homemade pipe bombs, explosives he planned to detonate around New York City, and carry out attacks against U.S. military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomber labeled him "a total lone wolf" at a news conference late Sunday night.
But to me and many in my neighborhood, the signs just weren't there.
His supposedly radical thoughts never surfaced when he would ask those that he befriended for a dollar to get his coffee and newspaper, which he bought from a deli run by Middle Easterners. The Islamic extremist propaganda that he allegedly posted online never showed when he would deliver a pleasant 'Hi' or nod his head every time I walked up and down the block.
Those in his building never saw anything that suggested he was hell bent on killing for a jihad cause.
"I wouldn't expect it from him," said Carlos Martínez, 21, who said he'd play pickup games with Pimentel. "He was always like a laid back guy."
Still, his religious conversion, though seemingly non-violent, put some people off.
"He was always religious about his talks," said Andy Morales, 23, who lived across the street from Pimentel. "I just avoided him as much as I can."
Pimentel is being held on state terrorism charges. His attorney, Joseph Zablocki, said his client's behavior leading up to the arrest was not that of a conspirator trying to conceal some violent scheme. He added that Pimentel had been public about his views and was not trying to hide anything.
Carmen Sosa, Pimentel's mother, has reportedly said that her son was raised Roman Catholic but began studying the Koran in 2001. Even though she apologized to New York City, according to news reports, she defended her son.
"He's a person that's totally calm," Sosa told Fox News Latino late Sunday. "What can I tell you, I'm his mother."
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.