NYPD: 2 men plotting terror had guns, grenade

In this photo released by New York City Police, detectives converge on the vehicle occupied by Ferhani Wednesday evening, May 11, 2011.
CBS/DCPI

NEW YORK - Two Americans, including one who complained that the world was treating Muslims "like dogs," bought guns and a grenade and wanted to carry out a terror plot against a New York synagogue, officials said Thursday.

One of the alleged homegrown terrorists arrested in a sting operation also expressed interest in bombing the Empire State Building, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Ahmed Ferhani, a 26-year-old of Algerian descent, and Mohamed Mamdouh, a 20-year-old of Moroccan descent, plotted to bomb a "major synagogue" in Manhattan and bought several weapons and an inert hand grenade from an undercover officer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Officials said they had been using an undercover detective wearing a wire to track Ferhani for several months, and that he had said he was fed up with the way Muslims were treated around the world and hated Jews. He's the one who expressed interest in the Empire State Building attack, Kelly said.

"They're treating us like dogs," Ferhani said once, according to Kelly.

Ferhani showed a pattern of growing anger, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

"His plans became bigger and more violent with every passing week," Vance said.

According to a criminal complaint drafted under state terror laws, the undercover officer had several meetings with the men where Ferhani discussed the idea of attacking a synagogue. Mamdouh emphasized the need for proper training, the complaint said, so they would not get caught like "the one that put the car in Times Square" — a reference to the failed bombing last year by Faisal Shahzad.

Ferhani suggested disguising himself as a worshipping Jew to infiltrate a synagogue and leaving a bomb inside, the complaint said. He also discussed using grenades, "and described pulling the pins and throwing them into the synagogue," it added.

On May 5, the undercover officer introduced the men to another officer pretending to be an illegal gun dealer at a meeting where Ferhani stated he needed the weapons "for the cause," the complaint said.

"We gonna be victorious," it quoted Ferhani as saying.

At a meeting Wednesday in Manhattan, one of the undercover officers handed Ferhani a bag carrying three handguns, three boxes of ammunition and the inert grenade. As soon as he put the bag into the trunk of a car, he was arrested, the complaint said.

Police have been on high alert for potential threats to the city since the U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden over a week ago, though Kelly said the men had no apparent link to al Qaeda.

"We are concerned about lone wolves acting against New York city in the wake of the killing of bin Laden," Bloomberg said. "Those perhaps are the toughest to stop."

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Terror suspects are traditionally prosecuted by federal authorities. New York passed its own anti-terrorism law within six days of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and lawmakers at the time said they thought it may never be used.

The law states that a person can be found guilty of terrorism when he or she commits a crime with the goal of intimidating or coercing civilians, influencing government policy or affecting the conduct of a government. The statute also increases the penalty of crimes if the suspect is also found guilty of making terrorist threats or committing terrorist acts.

Four men were arrested in 2009 on charges they plotted to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an air base upstate.

A federal jury in Manhattan convicted the men last year. Defense lawyers claimed the four never would have engaged in such plans without being pushed into it by the FBI's undercover informant. Judge Colleen McMahon scolded the government, suggesting the case bordered on entrapment, but upheld the convictions.

Federal officials recently reiterated a warning that bin Laden's killing could inspire new attacks against the United States -- particularly from "lone wolf" extremists whose plots to harm soldiers or civilians are difficult to detect in advance

The Joint Intelligence Bulletin from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said that bin Laden's death at the hands of an elite Navy team last week "could inspire violent extremist followers to conduct retaliatory attacks in the Homeland."

But the agencies stressed that there is no evidence of any specific or imminent threat and that the bulletin is essentially a reminder issued out of an abundance of caution.