Two Arrested in New York City Synagogue Attack Plot Sting

Pair arrested trying to buy pistols, grenades. One eyed Empire State Building.

ByABC News
May 12, 2011, 6:33 AM

May 12, 2011— -- Two men were arrested today in New York City, allegedly trying to buy weapons including three pistols and hand grenades as part of a terror plot to attack Manhattan synagogues, law enforcement sources said.

One of the suspects expressed interest in bombing the Empire State Building, said New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, according to ABC News affiliate WABC in New York.

Both wanted to attack a "major synagogue," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

This is the 13th plot thwarted against the city since the Sept. 11, law enforcement officials said.

The men were arrested Wednesday night in Midtown Manhattan as part of a police operation that had begun prior to Osama bin Laden's death and was not a result of any retaliatory plan, sources said.

While the suspects, identified by authorities as 20-year-old Mohamed Mamdouh from Morocco and 26-year-old Ahmed Ferhani from Algeria, allegedly talked about attacking synagogues in Manhattan, no specific synagogue had been targeted, law enforcement sources said.

According to the criminal complaint obtained by ABC News, Ferhani told an undercover NYPD investigator he wanted to participate in "jihad" and support Gaza in the fight against Israel. He said that if he were to die in that pursuit, he would become a martyr, the complaint said.

Ferhani was the suspect who mentioned the Empire State Building, WABC quoted Kelly as saying.

Investigators said Ferhani, who is believed to have recruited Mamdouh for the alleged terror plot, lives in the basement of his father's home in the city. Police searched the home Wednesday night and confiscated a computer and several personal items.

The two men had already obtained some guns and were trying to buy more, as well as a grenade, law enforcement officials said.Their attempts were detected by investigators with the NYPD's Intelligence Division, who moved in to set up a sting.

The men "systematically engaged in conversations with an undercover NYPD officer, making clear their desire to obtain weapons and training to engage in terrorist activities in New York City," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a news conference.

The complaint said the undercover officer was able to convince the pair that he knew where they could get "clean" guns from a weapons dealer -- another undercover police officer.

At the supposed gun deal, Ferhani allegedly said, "Muslims is getting abused all over the world ... I ain't gonna accept it [sic]." He was arrested after placing the weapons -- including an inert grenade -- in the trunk of his car, according to the complaint.

The pair has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon, attempted criminal possession of a weapon, conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and conspiracy as a hate crime.

"There was a lot of 'I hate Jews,' 'We hate Jews' in what was said," one source said.

The case has been ongoing for about six months with the NYPD and prosecutors working closely for much of that time, law enforcement sources said. The two could face up to life in prison.