First, here’s what we know:
Four men, all Muslims living in Newburgh, New York, were arrested last night in what authorities said was a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and to fire Stinger missiles at military aircraft at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh.
The men — James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen — were petty criminals who had met in prison. They do not appear to have been acting in concert with any larger terrorist group. All are native-born Americans, except for Payen, who is Haitian.
There’s no doubt the men expressed violent sentiments towards Jews and others, and a desire to commit large-scale terror acts. According to the complaint, at one point during the planning, Cromitie said: “I hate those motherfuckers, those fucking Jewish bastards … I would like to get [destroy] a synagogue.” In that same conversation, he also said, referring to the Twin Towers: “The best target was hit already.”
Separately, during the planning, Onta Wiliams said, in substance, “they [the US military] are killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here with IEDs and Stringers it is equal.” And David Williams (it’s unclear whether the two are related) said that if Jews were killed “it does not matter.”
But it’s not clear whether these men would have carried out any terror plot without encouragement and material support from an FBI informant. The New York Times reports that “a federal law enforcement official described the plot as “aspirational” — meaning that the suspects wanted to do something but had no weapons or explosives.”
Indeed, the complaint paints a picture of a plot in which the FBI informant played a central role from the start. The informant met Cromitie, the apparent ringleader of the plot, last June at a Newburgh mosque. Cromitie told the informant that his parents had lived in Afghanistan, that he was upset about the US killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that he would like to do “something to America.” Soon after, the informant falsely told Cromitie that he (the informant) was a member of the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed. Cromitie said he too would like to join, in order to “do Jihad.”
From there, the plot began to slowly take shape, with the informant playing a central role throughout. The informant helped to procure fake homemade bombs, and accompanied the men in obtaining a surface-to-air guided missile system and three IEDs. The informant also accompanied the men in buying handguns for use in the plot.
So based on what we know, it looks like the suspects had definite intentions to follow through on their ambitions to commit violence — but whether they had the wherewithal and resources to have done so without the help of the informant is less clear.