New York undercover police have arrested two men who bought weapons in an alleged plot to disguise themselves as Jews and unleash a bloodbath in Manhattan synagogues, city officials said on Thursday.
The suspects, Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, both of North African descent, were also alleged to have said they would attack the Empire State Building.
Police “arrested two men who said they wanted to destroy a major synagogue in Manhattan and then purchased several weapons and a grenade from an undercover officer,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the men — one a US citizen and the other a legal resident — were arrested on Wednesday immediately after purchasing weapons from an undercover agent.
They bought two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson handgun, ammunition and a hand grenade during the sting operation, Kelly said.
According to the Manhattan prosecutor’s office, the undercover investigation lasted seven months, during which time Ferhani and Mamdouh were recorded making plans for horrific attacks against the city’s large Jewish population.
The men “planned visits to Manhattan’s largest synagogues, intending to disguise themselves as Jewish worshippers, attend services at a synagogue and, while pretending to pray, leave a bomb in the synagogue,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said.
“Ferhani discussed, among other things, buying a grenade to throw into a synagogue, buying a gun with a silencer, and buying multiple guns to use as part of the plan in case they were caught. He discussed learning to build bombs so he could blow up a synagogue,” the office said.
New York has been on heightened alert since US commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2.
“We are concerned about lone wolves acting against New York City in the wake of the killing of bin Laden,” Bloomberg said. “Those perhaps are the toughest to stop.”
Bloomberg said there had been 13 plots against New York since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed about 3,000 people at the World Trade Center.
Officials described the pair as Islamist extremists, but said they were “lone wolves” not connected to any formal group such as al-Qaeda.
“They did it for jihad,” New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.
“He was fed up with the way Muslims were being treated around the world. ‘They’re treating us like dogs!’” Kelly quoted one defendant as saying.
“We will blow up the synagogue in Manhattan and take out the entire building,” Kelly quoted a suspect as saying.
One “also expressed interest in bombing the Empire State Building,” he said.
In an unusual move, the two were being charged by New York state, not federal prosecutors.
New York passed its own anti-terrorism law within six days of the Sept. 11 attacks, but this was the first instance the law was used as it had been envisioned. The New York Police Department said the FBI was aware of the investigation and decided not to get involved.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AP