As an American and a New Yorker, I have just two words for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the New York Police Department, which he leads: Thank you.
Gratitude towards Kelly and the NYPD is surprisingly rare these days, especially regarding the enormous success that Gotham’s cops have enjoyed in preventing America’s largest city from enduring Islamic terrorism in the years since al-Qaeda’s mass murder on September 11, 2001. Rather than salute the NYPD for averting hundreds or even thousands more deaths, critics slam the law-enforcement professionals who successfully have guarded one of the War on Terror’s most active fronts.
“The FBI considers the NYPD’s intelligence gathering practices since 9/11 not only a waste of money but a violation of Americans’ rights, “Newsmax’s chief Washington correspondent, Ronald Kessler, reveals in his new book, The Secrets of the FBI, published Tuesday. “The NYPD has been sending undercover operatives to political meetings,” one FBI official complains to Kessler. “We are not engaging in that kind of aimless intelligence gathering on mosques or political meetings without a predication that terrorist activities might be involved.”
The FBI’s jealousy and turf-mindedness aside, it often is tough to develop “predication” without “aimless intelligence gathering.”
Last May, Congressman Rush Holt (D., N.J.) sponsored an amendment to condemn law-enforcement agencies that practice religious, racial, or ethnic profiling. As the New York Post noted, Holt also demanded that the Justice Department investigate “a pattern of surveillance and infiltration by the New York Police Department against innocent American Muslims in the absence of a valid investigative reason.”
This liberal attack on the NYPD’s counterterrorism activities was defeated 193 to 232 on a mainly party-line vote, with Democrats largely supportive and Republicans opposed.
Similarly, the Associated Press this April won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for highlighting “the New York Police Department’s clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities.” Responding in the June Commentary, however, Mitchell D. Silber — the NYPD’s former director of intelligence analysis — argues that these AP articles are “rife with inaccuracies” and “confuse events and policies in ways that are misleading and cast the tale they are telling in the worst possible light.”
As an American and a New Yorker, I have just two words for detractors of Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD: Back off.
The NYPD’s foes ignore two pivotal realities:
First, Kelly and the NYPD have broken no laws.
Since 1985, the NYPD has operated under the Handschu Guidelines. These rules shield political protesters from overzealous cops. Post 9/11, the NYPD asked a federal court to modify Handschu, given the need to battle terrorism. The court eventually agreed, and now the NYPD follows Handschu, as amended.
Handschu acknowledges a truism that escapes most cop bashers: “In its effort to anticipate or prevent unlawful activity, including terrorist acts, the NYPD must, at times, initiate investigations in advance of unlawful conduct.”
Yes, Virginia: Sometimes cops try to stop crime, rather than react to it. This is doubly true of Islamic terrorism, given its lust for widespread bloodshed.
Handschu further states: “The NYPD is authorized to visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public” and “to conduct online search activity and to access online sites and forums on the same terms . . . as members of the public.”
As Commissioner Kelly declared March 3 at Fordham Law School, “Anyone who intimates that it is unlawful for the Police Department to search online, visit public places, or map neighborhoods has either not read, misunderstood, or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu Guidelines.”
For his part, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan backed Kelly in a visit to One Police Plaza in April. Brennan said: “I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it’s something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade.”
Second, neither prizes nor prose can obscure the fact that the NYPD has led or supported counterterrorist efforts that repeatedly have scuttled conspiracies to commit mass homicide against innocent New Yorkers and visitors from across the country and around the globe.
“Since 9/11, New York City has been targeted by terrorists in 14 different plots,” Kelly said at Fordham. “Thanks to the work of the Police Department, the FBI, and a good deal of luck, none of these plots have succeeded. In fact, while the city saw terrorist attacks in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, no attack has taken place in the past ten years.”
After staying mum on the specifics of these plots for years, the NYPD finally released a list of these conspiracies. Often in conjunction with domestic and international security agencies, the NYPD has stymied or helped thwart most of these efforts to spill blood on the sidewalks of New York. Details of these plots should remind Americans of the severe danger that terrorists still pose.
1. Subway cyanide plot: As Ron Suskind reported in his book The One Percent Doctrine, “Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps . . . the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda.” In early 2003, U.S. intelligence discovered this conspiracy on the laptop of a Bahraini terrorist caught in Saudi Arabia. The computer contained plans for a hydrogen-cyanide gas-dispersal device nicknamed mubtakkar, or “inventive” in Arabic.
“In the world of terrorist weaponry,” Suskind wrote, “this was the equivalent of splitting the atom.” The plan was to place several of these mechanisms on Gotham subway cars. For reasons still unclear, however, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, canceled the assault at T minus 45 days.
2. Garment District plot: The Pakistani-born Uzair Paracha, according to the NYPD, “discussed with top al-Qaeda leaders the prospect of smuggling weapons and explosives — possibly even a nuclear device — into Manhattan’s Garment District through his father’s import-export business.”
The Justice Department states that this permanent resident alien worked with Majid Khan and Ammar al-Baluchi, both members of al-Qaeda. Paracha helped Khan “obtain a travel document that would have allowed Khan to re-enter the United States to commit a terrorist act,” Justice explained. “Khan intended to carry out an attack on gasoline stations.”
Paracha posed as Khan in order to build a legend of Khan as a visitor to America, even though Khan was in Pakistan. This included Paracha’s masquerading as Khan before U.S. immigration officials and agreeing to use Khan’s credit card domestically. Paracha and his father had discussed with Khan and al-Baluchi their receiving a $200,000 fee for this material support.
Uzair Paracha was arrested on March 28, 2003, and convicted on November 25, 2005, on all five terror-related charges that he faced. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison on July 20, 2006.
U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said: “The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force’s ability to interdict and prevent [Paracha’s] plan from succeeding does not mitigate the seriousness of the offense, and more than justifies the sentence imposed.”
3. Brooklyn Bridge plot: On October 28, 2003, Iyman Faris — a 34-year-old Kashmiri native also known as Mohammad Rauf — received a 20-year federal prison sentence for “providing material support and resources to al Qaeda,” the Justice Department stated. The naturalized U.S. citizen traveled to an al-Qaeda terror camp in Afghanistan in late 2000, where he met Osama bin Laden.
“The al Qaeda leader spoke with Faris about destroying a bridge in New York City by severing its suspension cables, and tasked Faris with obtaining the equipment needed for that operation. The leader also explained that al-Qaeda was planning to derail trains, and asked Faris to procure the tools for that plot as well.” Faris researched “gas cutters,” which he would use to sever the Brooklyn Bridge’s suspension cables.
Before his arrest, Faris transmitted a coded message that his scheme might fail. The NYPD believes that its robust deployment of officers, dogs, and checkpoints prompted a frustrated Faris to report to his supervisors: “The weather is too hot.”
4. New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup-headquarters plot: The Indian-born, British-reared Dhiren Barot converted to Islam with a vengeance. According to CBS News, he began his terrorist training in 1995 at camps in Pakistan, Kashmir, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Barot made two reconnaissance trips to the U.S. in August 2000 and March 2001. On his second visit, he videotaped the World Trade Center. His footage of the Twin Towers includes a male voice imitating the sound of an explosion.
According to British prosecutors, Barot’s handwritten notebook envisioned a “memorable black day for the enemies of Islam.” He planned to stuff three limousines with gas cylinders, explosives, and nails, and to detonate them in parking garages under London’s Ritz and Savoy Hotels. He hoped to bomb a London subway train beneath the River Thames, which would “cause pandemonium . . . explosions, flooding, drowning,” Barot wrote.
Barot also targeted the Citigroup building and the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan, Prudential’s New Jersey headquarters, and the World Bank’s offices in Washington, D.C.
Barot was arrested in London on August 3, 2004. He pleaded guilty to terror charges in August 2009.
“You planned to slaughter hundreds, if not thousands, of wholly innocent men, women, and children,” said British judge Neil Butterfield on September 10, 2009 — before giving Barot life in prison. “You were planning to bring indiscriminate carnage, bloodshed and butchery — first in Washington, Newark, and New York, and then London.”
Barot’s seven conspirators, in what the British call Operation Rhyme, are jailed in the U.K. for terms ranging from 15 to 26 years.
5. Herald Square subway station plot: Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay were arrested on August 27, 2004. According to the Justice Department, they “plotted to plant explosive devices at the Herald Square subway station in order to disrupt commerce and transportation in New York City and damage the economy.” Herald Square is one block from Madison Square Garden, where the 2004 Republican National Convention commenced the morning after Siraj and Elshafay were detained.
As Justice explained, “Siraj and Elshafay drove to the subway station on August 21, 2004, entered and inspected the station, and then returned to their car and drew diagrams of the location in order to help them later place a bomb.” Elshafay reportedly decided to plant the bomb while dressed as a Hasidic Jew, as he put it, “’cause they know Jews aren’t the ones doing it.”
Siraj earned a 30-year prison sentence. Elshafay received five years on March 2, 2007.
Federal prosecutor Roslynn R. Mauskopf, according to Justice, “praised the outstanding work of the New York City Police Department and, in particular, the courageous work of the Intelligence Division’s undercover detective known only as ‘Kamil Pasha’ who testified at trial.”
6. PATH-train and WTC-retaining-wall Plot: In July 2006, the FBI disrupted an international plot to bomb the PATH train that connects Manhattan and New Jersey via the Hudson Tubes. Arrests in Lebanon and other countries foiled an attack whose planning “had matured to a point where it appeared that the individuals were about to move forward,” said Mark Mershon, the FBI’s former assistant director in New York. Another official noted that the conspirators hoped to bomb the PATH tunnels and the World Trade Center’s retaining wall. This would have triggered a massive flood, with Hudson River water gushing into Lower Manhattan.
7. Transatlantic plot: “We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives onto airplanes in hand luggage and to detonate these in-flight,” said Paul Stephenson, Scotland Yard’s deputy commissioner. “This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” On August 9, 2006, British authorities arrested 24 suspects, mainly Muslims of Pakistani background, in London and Birmingham. The liquid explosives that they expected to use prompted today’s restrictions on fluids and gels in carry-on luggage.
U.S. officials believe these terrorists were targeting jets in Great Britain destined for California, Washington, and New York City.
8. JFK-airport and Buckeye-pipeline plot: On June 1, 2007, U.S. officials arrested former airport-cargo handler Russell Defreitas, a Guyanese-born American citizen, for plotting to bomb jet-fuel storage tanks at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, along with corresponding supply pipelines that stretch 40 miles to Linden, N.J., where they are replenished.
Such an explosion “may not cause a lot of deaths, but it would be spectacular and seen around the world,” former Transportation Security Administration chief John W. Magaw told the Washington Post. “It could cripple the airlines.
Conspirators Abdul Kadir, a former member of the Guyanese parliament, and Trinidadian Kareem Ibrahim were arrested in Trinidad. Kadir was caught on a Venezuela-bound plane, with onward passage to Iran. He said that he considered himself bound by the fatwas of Iran’s mullahs. Abdel Nur, a Guyanese of Pakistani descent, was arrested later.
Defreitas and Kadir were convicted and sentenced to life in prison on February 17, 2011. Nur pleaded guilty and scored 15 years in the slammer. Ibrahim, a Shiite imam, later was convicted on terror charges. He received a life sentence last January 14.
Why did Defreitas, the plot’s ringleader, target JFK? “Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow,” Defreitas told an informant in a recorded conversation. “They love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man. . . . If you hit that, the whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you can kill the man twice.”
9. Long Island Rail Road plot: Bryant Neal Vinas grew up in Medford, Long Island. After converting to Islam, he visited jihadist websites, traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan around late 2007, and adopted the name Bashir al-Amriki. He admitted to receiving terror training from al-Qaeda and launching rockets at an American military installation in September 2008.
After Pakistani officials arrested him in November 2008, Vinas alerted U.S. authorities to an al-Qaeda conspiracy to bomb a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train in Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station. Vinas said that he had furnished al-Qaeda details on LIRR train routes and communications equipment. He said he hoped to “cause a big economic hit on New York.” This prompted a terror alert on November 25, 2008.
On January 28, 2009, Vinas pleaded guilty to all the terror charges he faced, among them conspiring to kill American citizens.
All of this perplexes his mother, Maria Vinas. “I love him as a son,” she told the New York Post, “but I don’t know nothing about him.”
10. Bronx-synagogues plot: Authorities arrested James Cromitie, Laguerre Payen, David Williams, and Onta Williams on May 20, 2009, just after they had planted what they believed to be live improvised explosive devices outside a Jewish temple. An undercover agent had supplied these IEDs, which were in fact defused, along with disarmed rockets. Cromitie told this informant that he wanted to do “something to America” and “do jihad.”
The so-called Newburgh Four (they had met at a mosque in upstate Newburgh, N.Y.) all received 25 years in prison. As Justice explained, they are incarcerated for “plotting to bomb synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, and to use Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York.”
11. NYC subway and transit-hubs plot: Najibullah Zazi, Adis Medunjanin, and Zarein Ahmedzay were arrested on September 19, 2009. Zazi pleaded guilty on February 22, 2010, to attempting a “martyrdom operation” against Gotham’s subway system. Ahmedzay pleaded guilty to conspiracy and material support charges on April 23, 2010. The three high-school classmates grew up in Queens, New York.
After August 2008 weapons training in Waziristan, an al-Qaeda-infested region of Pakistan, the three flew back to America. Terror masters valued these New Yorkers for their U.S. passports, which let them enter America with ease. According to the Washington Post, the Afghan-born Zazi “returned to Colorado in January 2009 with notes on how to mix explosive chemicals. He procured large volumes of beauty supplies that contained hydrogen peroxide to make TATP [triacetone triperoxide], the explosive involved in the 2005 bombings of London’s transit system.”
“The marriage is ready,” Zazi told his al-Qaeda supervisors when the bombs were prepared, according to federal prosecutor James Loonam. This intercepted message set off alarm bells from London to Colorado and put Zazi under surveillance.
Authorities questioned Zazi as he drove a rented car onto the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, but released him, whereupon he proceeded to Ahmedzay’s home in Flushing, Queens. Fearing that they were being watched — because of the G. W. Bridge car stop (stage-managed by the FBI) and surveillance by the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force — Zazi aborted the mission the next day. On September 10, Ahmedzay flushed the TATP down his toilet, and he and Zazi stashed goggles, light bulbs, and hydrochloric acid at the closest mosque.
These precautions notwithstanding, the would-be bombers were arrested nine days later. Shortly before officials brought him in, Medunjanin shouted:“We love death more than you love your life.”
“These three men, amongst all those people [in the subway] were prepared to explode these bombs and kill everyone around them,” Loonam said at Medunjanin’s trial this April. “Men, women, and children never to see their homes again.”
Zazi and Ahmedzay testified against Medunjanin. They await sentencing.
Meanwhile, a federal jury convicted Medunjanin on terrorism and conspiracy charges on May 1. He will be sentenced on September 7. Police Commissioner Kelly said: “His conviction stands as a stark reminder of terrorists’ desire long after 9/11 to return to the city to kill more New Yorkers.”
12. Times Square plot: Faisal Shahzad, 30, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, was arrested at JFK on May 3, 2010. He pleaded guilty to ten felony terror counts, including receiving explosives training from Tehrik-e-Taliban, a militant Islamic group, in Waziristan. Shahzad also pleaded guilty to buying a Nissan Pathfinder, filling it with explosives, and parking it in front of the Minskoff Theater on the Saturday evening two days before his arrest. It would have detonated as patrons gathered for the musical The Lion King. Luckily, the bomb fizzled, and Shahzad was nabbed before his flight departed for Dubai.
U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum sentenced Shahzad to life in prison on October 5, 2010. He now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. His neighbors include Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
13. Manhattan-synagogue plot: Police arrested Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh on May 11, 2011. They allegedly had plotted to annihilate New York Jews. They pleaded not guilty and still await trial.
According to police, Ferhani bought three guns and an inert grenade in a sting operation and told an undercover detective that he planned to purchase a gun silencer and a box of grenades.
Commissioner Kelly told WCBS: “He had this notion that he would go into a synagogue and put a bomb in the synagogue or a hand grenade and, if he were resisted in any way, he would shoot at people, and obviously the silencer would facilitate that happening.” Kelly added that the two suspects were “motivated to a great extent by a pathological hatred of Jewish people.”
“I don’t like the idea of killing myself to kill others,” Ferhani allegedly explained on police recordings, “but in fighting to the death if needed . . . and if any Jews get in my way, I will kill them.”
14. José Pimentel plot: José Pimentel, a Dominican-born American citizen and Muslim convert, was arrested in November 2011, police say, while just one hour from completing a homemade pipe bomb.
“José Pimentel engaged in a plot to build improvised explosive devices and use them to commit acts of violent jihad,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, allegedly planned to bomb a post office, a New Jersey police station, NYPD vehicles, and GIs returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pimentel reportedly was radicalized by the American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom a U.S. drone atomized last September 30. Pimentel allegedly read Inspire, the on-line magazine of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and studied an article titled “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
Commissioner Kelly said that Pimentel “talked about changing his name to Osama Hussein to celebrate his heroes, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.”
Pimentel pleaded not guilty on March 13 and awaits trial.
What do these 14 plots have in common? While it may startle the FBI, House Democrats, and the Associated Press, most Americans understand that what connects these intended acts of mayhem is militant Islam. These incidents confirm, yet again, the words of Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya Television: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.”
As soon as extremist Christian Scientists start blowing up hospitals, the NYPD can start casing Christian Science Reading Rooms. If militant Rotarians begin planning polio attacks (rather than valiantly working to eradicate the disease, as they do today), the NYPD would be guilty of malpractice if it did not infiltrate Rotary Club lunches.
Until then, Ray Kelly and the NYPD should ignore their carping critics and keep shielding innocent men, women, and children from the deadly virus of militant Islam.
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.