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New York plot shows 'bunches of guys' can become terrorists in post-9/11 world

Organized groups are still the main threat, but homegrown jihadists can be very dangerous, too.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 22, 2009

Officers stand outside FBI offices before four suspects are walked out in New York May 21, 2009. Four men were arrested on Wednesday in a suspected plot to bomb a synagogue and Jewish community center in New York City and to shoot at military planes with stinger missiles, law enforcement officials said.

Chip East/Reuters

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The four men arrested May 20 after planting what they believed to be bombs near two New York City synagogues appear to be homegrown would-be terrorists. According to the FBI, they met in prison in the US – not some far-off training camp along the Afghan–Pakistani border.

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But even without organized instruction, so-called "bunches of guys" jihadists can still be very dangerous. Participants in the New York temple plot allegedly were willing, even eager, to attack unsuspecting civilians and US military aircraft.

"The desire was clearly there," says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

The temple plot suspects were apprehended after planting a 37-pound inert explosive device in the trunk of a car outside the Riverdale Temple, and two more inert bombs outside the Riverdale Jewish Center, another synagogue a few blocks away, said US law enforcement authorities.

Police blocked their escaped with an 18-wheel truck, and smashed windows of their black sport utility vehicle. After that the suspects offered no resistance to arrest, according to police.

The four men did not know that the "bombs" they had planted would not have exploded. An FBI informant had infiltrated the group, and provided dummy explosives and other weapons.

The informant was driving the getaway car when the men were arrested, according to a federal complaint filed in district court. Authorities had followed the group's activities with wire taps and video surveillance.

The men – James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen – had planned to drive to the Air National Guard base at Newburgh, New York, after planting their explosives at New York City synagogues, and fire Stinger surface-to-air missiles at US aircraft.

The Stingers were also inoperative FBI-provided equipment. After obtaining them on May 6, via their informant, the group had driven to a storage facility in the Newburgh area, according to the criminal complaint.

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