According to federal prosecutors, the four men in January 2006 began plotting to use explosives to destroy buildings, fuel tanks and fuel pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The airport daily handles more than 1,000 flights – about half of which are international – and annually handles around 45 million passengers.
The four being charged are:
- Former JFK employee Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen and native of Guyana. Defreitas, a former airport cargo worker at JFK, was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., by agents from the FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF).
- Abdul Kadir, a citizen of Guyana who has served as a member of the Guyanese Parliament. According to the Justice Department, Kadir is in custody in Trinidad.
- Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad. Ibrahim also is in custody in Trinidad.
- Abdel Nur, a citizen of Guyana.
According to the Justice Department, the U.S. government plans to seek the extradition of Kadir, Ibrahim and Nur.
An International Network
Federal prosecutors allege that the plot hatched by Defreitas, Kadir, Ibrahim and Nur tapped into an international network of Muslim extremists from the United States, Guyana and Trinidad, and utilized the knowledge, expertise and contacts of the conspirators to develop and plan the plot and obtain operational support and capability to carry it out.
For example, federal prosecutors allege that the conspirators dispatched Defreitas from Guyana to conduct video and photo surveillance of JFK airport on four occasions in January. During the surveillance and using his knowledge of airport operations from his prior employment, Defreitas allegedly identified targets and escape routes and assessed airport security.
According to the criminal complaint, the four men also obtained satellite photographs of JFK airport and its facilities from the Internet and traveled frequently between the United States, Guyana and Trinidad to discuss their plans and to solicit the financial and technical assistance of others.
“The Most Hurtful Thing to the United States”
According to the criminal complaint filed by Justice Department prosecutors, the four men used their connections to present their terrorist plot to radical groups in South America and the Caribbean, including senior leadership of Jamaat Al Muslimeen (“JAM”), which was responsible for a deadly coup attempt in Trinidad in 1990. As the complaint alleges, Kadir and Nur were longtime associates of JAM leaders.
Allegedly, Kareem also was preparing to send an emissary overseas to present the plan to other extremists.
According to the Justice Department, an informant working with law enforcement agents began monitoring the plot at its early stages and made numerous recorded conversations with the defendants. In a recorded conversation following one of the surveillance missions to JFK airport, Defreitas predicted that the attacks would result in the destruction of “the whole of Kennedy,” that only a few people would survive the attack and that because of the location of the targeted fuel pipelines, part of Queens would explode.
“Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States,” Defreitas said during a recorded conversation, according to the Justice Department. “To hit John F. Kennedy, wow ... They love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man ... If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you can kill the man twice.”
In a later recorded conversation with his co-conspirators in May, Defreitas compared the plot to attack JFK to the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, allegedly stating, “Even the Twin Towers can’t touch it.”
He allegedly added: “This can destroy the economy of America for some time.”
Plot Sought to Inflict Economic Damage
In discussing the plans, Kadir allegedly stressed the goal of causing economic damage and suggested minimizing the killing of innocent men and women. In one conversation, Kadir and Defreitas allegedly discussed the need to disable the airport control tower from which airport security monitors the fuel tank locations. Kadir, an engineer by training, explained that the tanks were, most likely, double tanks, requiring two explosions to provide enough oxygen to ignite the fuel inside the inner tank.
“The defendants sought to combine an insider’s knowledge of JFK Airport with the assistance of Islamic radicals in the Caribbean to produce an attack that they boasted would be so devastating to the airport that ‘even the twin towers can’t touch it,’ Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for National Security at the Justice Department said. “Like the Fort Dix case several weeks ago, this plot highlights the evolving nature of the terrorist threat we face, and our investigation into both plots highlights how our agents and prosecutors are refining their capability to detect and preempt such plots before they advance to a dangerous stage.”
“Unfathomable Damage, Deaths and Destruction”
Roslynn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, asserted that the alleged bomb plot, if successful, would have “resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction,” due to the fact that JFK is one of the nation's busiest airports and is located in one of the nation's most densely populated areas.
“But, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement, the defendants’ plan never reached the operational stage, and the public was never at risk,” Mauskopf said. “We remain unwavering in our commitment to stop terrorist plots before they become terrorist acts and will spare no effort to secure the safety of the public.”
The arrests of the four men were the result of a joint investigation involving federal, state and local agencies. Mauskopf added that the investigation is continuing.
“This announcement demonstrates, once again, that there are people continuously plotting violence against our vital assets and our homeland,” said Michael Balboni, deputy secretary for public safety with the New York State Department of Homeland Security. “This investigation and the arrests that are related to it prove that the cooperation of state, local and federal law enforcement can produce real results that help to make our state and nation safer.”
If convicted of conspiring to attack JFK with explosives, Defreitas, Kadir, Ibrahim and Nur each face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.