Reports last week suggested that the Newburgh four — the men arrested Wednesday for plotting to bomb two New York synagogues — perhaps weren’t the swiftest ships in her majesty’s fleet. But over the weekend, people close to the four came forward to describe how the government informant at the center of the case against them — the man known to the suspects as Maqsood — aggressively courted the men before luring them into an imagined jihad.
Kathleen Baynes, the girlfriend of James Cromitie, described as the plot’s ringleader, said Maqsood had given Cromitie cash, food, cameras, rent money, and marijuana. “Maqsood gave him a lot of marijuana,” she said, adding: “Whenever we needed anything, Maqsood would help — like financially — he gave us money to pay rent.” She also said Maqsood offered Cromitie $25,000 to join him, and promised a black Mercedes. And she said a friend told her Cromitie had said he was going to be getting $50,000.
Baynes also said that Maqsood aggressively kept after Cromitie. “Maqsood would keep ringing our doorbell, and James would hide behind the sofa.” She continued: “He was very persistent, and every time he came for James, he took him away. They said they were going out to eat dinner.” And: “He was just constantly around. It was like he was stalking him.”
Elizabeth McWilliams, the mother of another of the accused plotters, David Wiliams, said that Maqsood had promised to help pay medical bills for Williams’ sick brother, whom he had returned to Newburgh to help care for. “Maqsood said, ‘Don’t worry, brother, I am going to help with your brother’s hospital bills.’ This man did nothing but set these guys up.”
Maqsood also preyed on some of the other young men at the mosque. He asked one out for lunch, offered another a job, and offered a third cellphones and computers. Many members of the mosque correctly suspected that Maqsood was a government informant.
Nor was the Newburgh mosque the location of his first attempt to find some would-be Jihadis. He had first appeared, in 2007, at a mosque in nearby Wappingers Falls, bragging about his real estate business and properties, and driving a black Mercedes. The former treasurer of that mosque said Maqsood asked him three times for the mosque’s list of members, saying he wanted to approach potential customers, but was rebuffed.
And of course, this wasn’t the first sting that Maqsood has engineered. A few years ago, he posed as an arms dealer who had sold a shoulder-launched missile to be used to kill a Pakistani envoy. Two Albany men, Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, helped him launder money from the supposed sale, and were convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Let’s be clear about what all this might and might not add up to. If these men were willing to go through with planting what they believed to be deadly bombs — as they appear to have been — then they should be charged, and, if convicted, sentenced to jail-time. (Their lawyers, of course, will likely claim entrapment, and it’ll be up to a judge and jury to weigh that claim after hearing all the evidence.)
But the emerging evidence that “Maqsood” aggressively targeted these men, and may have convinced them to participate in the plot only by offering them money and gifts, raises a different question: is pursuing “plots” that may well never have existed in the first place were it not for the work of a government informant, really the most effective way for the federal government to spend its finite terror-fighting resources?
We plan to have more on that question later today.