Friday, August 5, 2011

Grenade Attack Suspects Charged

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two Queens men were arrested on terrorism charges after buying guns and a grenade with what officials called "aspirations" of attacking an undetermined Manhattan synagogue and the Empire State Building.

Ahmed Ferhani, a 26-year-old Algerian native, was arrested Wednesday by a swarm of police after purchasing three weapons, ammunition and a hand grenade from an undercover detective in Midtown Manhattan, authorities said. Mr. Ferhani had agreed to pay $700 for the cache, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. Mr. Ferhani's alleged cohort, Mohammed Mehdi Mamdouh, a 20-year-old native of Morocco, was arrested moments later, standing not far from Mr. Ferhani's car.

Mayor Bloomberg's remarks on last night's arrest of two terrorism suspects who plotted to attack a synagogue in New York City. Video courtesy of Newscore.

At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Kelly said that just before he was arrested, Mr. Ferhani told the detective he wanted more guns, silencers, a box of grenades, bullet-resistant vests and police radios. "Using an expletive, [the suspect said] that he was fed up with the way Muslims were being treated around the world: 'They're treating us like dogs,'" Mr. Kelly said.

The arrests stemmed from an investigation that began seven months ago. Police wouldn't say what first drew their attention to Mr. Ferhani. To an undercover detective, he "expressed interest in killing Jews," Mr. Kelly said.

After an arraignment in a crowded Manhattan courtroom Thursday evening, the men were detained without bail. As prosecutor Margaret Gandy listed the charges and evidence, they shook their heads, as if in disbelief. Mr. Mamdouh mouthed the word, "what?" after Ms. Gandy said the suspects considered disguising themselves as Hasidic Jews to gain entry to a temple.

Mr. Mamdouh's attorney, Steven Fusfeld, said his client, who lives with his family in Whitestone, Queens, denies any involvement in a terror plot. Stephen Pokart, a Legal Aid lawyer defending Mr. Ferhani, also from Whitestone, said his client denied the charges, too.


Ahmed Ferhani, left, and Mohammed Mehdi Mamdouh in Manhattan criminal court on Thursday

The arrests mark the first time New York state terrorism charges, rather than federal, will be used against individuals suspected in a terror plot. If convicted, the men could face life in prison without parole.

Mr. Kelly said that it was decided the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance would handle the case because an unrelated criminal case in that office had touched off the probe.

However, a law-enforcement official with knowledge of the case said detectives from the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division brought the case to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is comprised of multiple agencies, including the NYPD, but is led by the Department of Justice and the FBI.

JTTF members declined to participate because they were concerned the case wasn't strong enough to win a conviction in federal court, the official said. Since Mr. Kelly's return as police commissioner in 2002 there have been several well-publicized clashes between the FBI and NYPD. Under Mr. Kelly, the NYPD started its own antiterrorism unit.

Paul Browne, the NYPD's spokesman, called the notion that an FBI-NYPD rivalry played a part in the case "nonsense."

At the news conference, the police commissioner said investigators found no ties between the men and al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. "We are concerned about lone wolves acting against New York City in the wake of the killing of [Osama] bin Laden," Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Ferhani has been arrested at least six times, including for robbery, according to a law-enforcement official. Mr. Kelly said Mr. Ferhani moved from Algeria with his family in 1995. His parents were granted asylum, and he is a permanent resident. However, because he failed to appear before an immigration judge to answer questions about his arrests, his case was under review for possible deportation, Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Mamdouh immigrated to Queens from Casablanca in 1999 with his family. He is a U.S. citizen.

— Tamer El-Ghobashy and Alison Fox contributed to this article.

Write to Sean Gardiner at and Devlin Barrett at

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