When the alleged ringleader of the plot to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport befriended a man willing to help him get funding and explosives, Russell Defreitas told his new pal that he had been "sent by Allah" to complete the job.
Defreitas was inclined to trust the man because he believed he had met him under friendly circumstances at a mosque in Brooklyn. They talked of dying as Islamic martyrs and getting their rewards in paradise.
But Defreitas' new "friend" was actually an FBI informant wearing a concealed wire, and it was extensive evidence gathered by this source that led to the arrest of the four plotters accused of conspiring to destroy New York's leading airport by attacking its jet-fuel pipelines.
It is clear from the 33-page indictment against the men that the prosecution case will depend heavily on electronic surveillance, both audio and video gathered by the undercover source, a career criminal who has been cooperating with the FBI since 2004 in an effort to have his sentence reduced.
The man, whose identity has not been revealed, was convicted of federal drug trafficking and racketeering charges in 1996 and convicted of more drug charges in 2003. The U.S. government is providing financial assistance to him in exchange for his help on the case.
Prominent New York lawyer Ron Kuby, a frequent contributor to Court TV, said the source faced life in prison unless he could provide prosecutors with useful information. That gave him a strong motive to find a terrorism case to develop, Kuby said.
"You get your sentence reduced based on results," he said. "So typically these folks go out and try to create conspiracies and then blow the whistle. We don't know if he originally tipped off the FBI about this case or whether the FBI used him to infiltrate the discussion."
The indictment indicates that the prime mover in the plot was Defreitas, a U.S. citizen from Guyana, a small South American country with a Muslim minority. He had previously worked at JFK airport and claimed to know it well.
The source spent months gaining Defreitas' trust and last year traveled to Guyana with him to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He also went on surveillance trips to JFK to film key fuel installations so they could plan how to set them on fire and generate a huge explosion.
The indictment filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York makes clear that the plotters were motivated by deeply held resentment about U.S. government policies.
The accused men spoke angrily about the U.S. government's backing of Israel and its perceived actions against Muslims worldwide.
The suspects, all with close ties to Guyana or Trinidad, seemed eager to demonstrate that it is not only Muslims from the Middle East who are ready to launch a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies.
A conversation between the source and Defreitas on Aug. 1 set the tone of their discussions. The two men met at a store in Brooklyn, and the source was driving Defreitas to his home when they discussed the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which was extracting a heavy toll on civilians on both sides.
"Defreitas and the source agreed that Muslims always incur the wrath of the world while Jews get a `pass,' " the indictment says.
Defreitas goes on to say that the perception that only Arab Muslims were fighting a war for Islam was mistaken because "many other nationalities of Muslims were involved."
In a later conversation secretly recorded on Jan. 2, Defreitas told the source that his motivation to attack JFK airport dated to the days when he worked in a menial job there.
"Defreitas claimed that, while working at JFK airport, he saw military parts being shipped to Israel, including missiles that he felt would be used to kill Muslims," the indictment states. "According to Defreitas, as a result, he `wanted to do something to get those bastards.' "
The next day, and several times during the next week, the source and Defreitas went on scouting trips to JFK to determine the best way to attack the airport. But their visits also were videotaped by law enforcement agents who had been tipped off by the source about the planned expeditions.
Their budding plot seemed to suffer a setback on Feb. 28 when Defreitas and the source flew from Guyana to JFK in New York and were subjected to an extensive search at the border-control point.
Federal agents copied Defreitas' personal phone book, with the names and numbers of other plotters. The men feared their plans had been found out.
That gave some of the suspects cold feet and slowed their efforts to find desperately needed financial backers. They were seeking money from the leader of an Islamic group in Trinidad when police moved in to break up the plot.
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