(Updates with indictment accusations in third paragraph.)
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Two men arrested last month and accused of plotting acts of terrorism at New York synagogues were indicted by a grand jury and pleaded not guilty.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, a native of Nigeria, and Morocco-born Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, residents of Queens, New York, were arrested May 11 after an eight-month undercover operation conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the New York police.
Ferhani and Mamdouh said on April 12 they wanted to blow up a synagogue and discussed how to do it without being caught, according to the indictment. Ferhani also asked an undercover detective if he could contact someone about how to make a bomb, the indictment said. Ferhani allegedly said they should dress as Jewish worshippers and leave a bag with a bomb. He said on May 9 he wanted to blow up 10 synagogues at once, the indictment said.
“A picture emerges from today’s indictment that describes how the defendants plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause,’” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. “Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime.”
While their primary target seemed to be Jews, Ferhani and Mamdouh also conspired to bomb churches to send a message of violence to non-Muslims including Christians, Vance said.
The two are charged with attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and conspiracy as a hate crime. Ferhani also is charged with criminal sale of a firearm as a crime of terrorism.
The top charges are punishable by as long as 25 years in prison.
The initial charges against them included a more serious conspiracy crime relating to the planned terrorist arson attack, carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Vance, declined to comment on the lowering of the charges by the grand jury.
“These are greatly reduced charges from the arrest,” Aaron Mysliwiec, Mamdouh’s attorney, said today in an interview. “Cases often start with sensational allegations which later prove not to be true. Here, without even having heard from the defense, a grand jury determined that the original allegations were not true in some ways.”
Elizabeth Fink, who represents Ferhani, said the new charges are much less serious felonies, and that the top charges now are weapons charges related to the sting.
“They brought the weapons to the table,” she said of the authorities. “You just have to look at this case, and it smells to heaven.”
Fink said her client has had serious psychiatric issues since early adolescence, which the police knew because they took him to the hospital several times.
“We intend to fight the state on this,” she said.
The men on May 11 discussed their plan to buy weapons, including guns and a grenade, according to the indictment. Ferhani and the detective dropped off Mamdouh four blocks from where they were to meet a purported weapons dealer in Manhattan.
Ferhani turned over $100 as payment for the guns and said he would pay the rest later. He also said he wanted to buy a silencer, bulletproof vest, police radio interceptor and a box of grenades.
Ferhani sold crack cocaine, marijuana and Percocet pills to raise money to support the cause, according to the indictment.
“Mr. Mamdouh is a citizen,” Mysliwiec said. “His parents are American citizens. He’s not a political or religious person. He’s certainly not a radical. This is not a terrorism case.”
The case is People v. Ferhani, 2461/2011, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
--Editors: Michael Hytha, Fred Strasser
To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com