The four men arrested Wednesday night and accused of plotting to place bombs at New York City synagogues and shoot down National Guard jets appeared in court today, and an attorney for one of the defendants claimed his client suffers from mental illness.
At a hearing for three of the defendants, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder called the men "extremely violent" and said, "It's hard to envision a more chilling plot."
Authorities said today that the plot was real, but that the bombs allegedly planted were dummies, made from bogus materials supplied as part of a law enforcement sting.
Shackled at the waist and wrists and under tight security, James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams appeared before federal magistrate judge Lisa Smith at the federal courthouse in White Plains, N.Y.
The three men, all U.S. citizens accused of a homegrown terror plot to detonate bombs outside the Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Temple in the Bronx section of New York City and shoot down military planes Stewart Air National Guard Base in upstate New York, appeared incredulous as Snyder detailed the allegations against them.
At a later hearing, the fourth suspect, a Haitian citizen with permanent resident alien status named Laguerre Payen, slouched as he walked in, appearing disheveled in a black button-down shirt and jeans and sporting a bandage above his right eye.
His court-appointed attorney told the judge that Payen was given medications after his arrest, and that he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But Snyder expressed disbelief at the mental health claim, saying Payen appeared "enthusiastic" about the alleged plot in surveillance videos recorded by the FBI.
Earlier, medical personnel treated Payen for a cut above the eye; he received three stitches and the hospital cleared him for release before his court appearance. During the late-night arrest, FBI agents had blown open the windows of an SUV the suspects were riding in and pulled them out of the vehicle to take them into custody.
All four face charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles. If convicted on the charges, they could face sentences of life in prison.
Authorities had placed the suspects under surveillance almost a year ago, and the U.S. attorney's office prosecuting the case released a criminal complaint after the suspects' Wednesday arrest.
At the first hearing, the three suspects spoke minimally in court, but Cromitie's lawyer told the judge his client needs medical treatment for an injury sustained from broken glass at the scene during his arrest.
The judge asked the defendants if they had used alcohol or drugs in the past 24 hours, and Cromitie admitted that he had used marijuana.
Smith ordered all of the men to the Westchester County Jail, where they will remain until their next court appearance June 5.
Speaking earlier today at a press conference outside the targeted sites, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the suspects "stated that they wanted to commit jihad."
But Kelly noted that the public was not in danger from the bombs, which were not viable.