Informant is central to bomb plot case
NEW YORK — Four Muslim men charged with trying to blow up New York synagogues and shoot down military planes will be reunited at their trial with someone who was in on the plot every step of the way: a wire-wearing FBI informant named Shaheed Hussain.
The government credits Hussain with rooting out radical Muslims at a mosque in Newburgh, a small town north of New York. The defense has sought to portray him as a “fraudster’’ who lured down-and-out dupes into a phony scheme by offering them a pile of cash.
Hussain’s credibility will be tested as the government’s star witness at the trial, which is set to begin with opening statements this week in federal court in Manhattan.
James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen have pleaded not guilty to charges that they engaged in a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles to kill US officers and employees. They face possible life prison terms if convicted.
Authorities last year called the case a “chilling plot’’ involving “extremely violent men’’ who represented a dire homegrown terrorism threat. But the government also acknowledges that the men — targets of an elaborate, tightly scripted sting involving fake weapons, 100 officers, and a spy plane — had no ties to actual terrorists.
Pressing that point with prosecutors, US District Judge Colleen McMahon said at a recent hearing that she had been referring to the case privately as “the un-terrorist case.’’
The trial is “going to be about whether these guys were going to blow something up,’’ Assistant US Attorney David Raskin said at the hearing. “It’s not going to be about Al Qaeda, and it’s not going to be about foreign terrorist organizations.’’
The case began in June 2008, when Hussain struck up a conversation with Cromitie, whom he met by chance in the parking lot of the Newburgh mosque.
Hussain was posing as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organization. He drove a BMW and other luxury vehicles provided by the FBI to maintain his cover. Cromitie was a convicted drug dealer working odd jobs.
Prosecutors allege that within minutes of meeting Hussain, Cromitie told him, “I want to do something to America.’’
The government says Cromitie — with Hussain playing “terrorist facilitator’’ — eventually hatched a plot involving the other men.
The defense says the sting amounted to entrapment.