NEW York undercover police have arrested two men who bought weapons in an alleged plot to unleash a bloodbath in Manhattan synagogues, city officials say.
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,” 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 immediately after purchasing weapons from an undercover agent.
They bought two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith and Wesson handgun, ammunition and a hand grenade during the sting operation, Commissioner 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.
They “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.”
New York, targeted repeatedly by Islamist bombers over the last two decades, has been on heightened alert since US commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Mr Bloomberg said there had been 13 plots against New York since the September 11, 2001 mass murder of nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Centre.
Officials described the pair as Islamist extremists, but said they were “lone wolves” not connected to any formal group such as Al-Qa’ida.
“They did it for Jihad,” 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,”‘ Mr 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.”
In an unusual move, the two were being charged by New York state, not federal prosecutors. Mr Vance said there were four counts under terrorism and hate crimes laws.
The charges carry a potential penalty of life in prison.