Written by CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian and producer Phil Hirschkorn
Two suspects in custody in Trinidad face an extradition hearing Monday morning, as the United States seeks to prosecute them for their alleged roles in a plot to blow up jet fuel tanks and a fuel pipeline at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Abdul Kadir and Kareem Ibrahim, who were arrested in Trinidad over the weekend, will go before a magistrate and be asked whether they consent to extradition. If they fight removal, under the U.S.-Trinidad extradition treaty, the U.S, will have 60 days to submit evidence supporting their transfer.
"They have the wrong guy they should do some more investigating," Kadir's wife, Isha, told reporters Sunday on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. "We are praying and asking God for his help and guidance, and we're begging and asking Him to free my husband because he is not a terrorist."
The U.S. first asked Trinidad for help with the arrests Friday evening, according to David West, a prosecutor in Trinidad's the Ministry of the Attorney General. "We had no idea of what this investigation entailed," West told CBS News.
All four men accused are Muslims, foreign-born and middle-aged, according to the FBI. When announcing the arrests Saturday, officials revealed that alleged ringleader Russell Defterios, a former JFK Airport cargo worker, is the sole U.S. citizen and is 63. The rest, it turns out, are 51 to 57 years old.
Kadir, a 56-year-old engineer, is a former mayor and Parliament member in the South American nation of Guyana. Kadir was arrested by Trinidadian police Friday. He was pulled off a flight bound for Venezuela and connecting to Iran, where Kadir's wife says, he was to attend an Islamic conference.
Ibrahim, 51, was born in Guyana but is a citizen of Trinidad.
The fourth suspect, fugitive Abdel Nur, 57, is originally from Pakistan but is a citizen of Guyana.
A senior federal official told CBS News on Sunday the U.S. government considered the JFK cell operational "in the sense that they were taking affirmative steps to move forward with the planning" – undertaking surveillance, seeking to obtain funding – "but not in the sense that they had the explosives already or had selected a date to strike."
After 18 months, the official said, arrests were made because investigators had gathered all the intelligence they needed on this group and their operation.
"We could have watched them for another year, but we would not have learned much more of intelligence value," the official said. "What we could not do was walk away and leave them out there."
Defreitas was arrested Friday without incident at the Lindenwood Diner in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives. He is being detained pending a Wednesday bail hearing.
A longtime friend of Defreitas and Queens musician, Ricardo Johnston, said he can't believe the accusations against him. "The level of hatred you would have to have to plot something to injure innocent people – I saw no signs of that in him at all," Johnston told CBS News. "I would bet all my money that him being the mastermind is utterly ridiculous."
Johnston said he has known Defreitas for 30 years and that his Guyana-born friend was "very happy to be an American citizen." They have not seen each other in five years. "I assumed when I didn't hear from him, he was living happily ever after in Guyana," Johnston said.
Johnston described his friend as neither very political, nor fanatically religious. "He would have to be one of the world's greatest actors for me to know him that long and for him to have these type of qualities," he said.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly rejected the notion Sunday that the four men charged were mere terrorist "wanna-bes" since they lacked money, weapons or explosives to carry out the alleged plot.
"Certainly the intention was there. You can see it by the rhetoric, you can see it by the fact that they went to Kennedy Airport on at least four occasions, took in depth specific pictures of the targets, went back and forth on trips to Guyana, to Trinidad," Kelley told CBS News.
The criminal complaint says the men allegedly approached a Muslim extremist group based in Trinidad, Jamaat al-Muslimeen, to finance and arm their operation.
The alleged JFK Airport plot has parallels to a number of other post-September 11th plots the U.S. government has claimed to foil – suspects with no real ties to al Qaeda, attacks not beyond the talking phase, and undercover informants building the case.
Examples include the seven men who allegedly targeted federal buildings in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago. After they were videotaped taking a phony oath to al Qaeda, they were arrested last summer.
A New York jury last month convicted a Florida doctor, Rafiq Sabir, who planned to aid wounded "jihadists" overseas. He too had taken an al Qaeda oath administered by an undercover agent.
A Pakistani immigrant who plotted in 2004 to bomb a busy Manhattan subway station, Matin Siraj, is now serving 30-years in prison, in part due to a police informant who recorded their conversations.
More recently, five foreign-born men and a U.S. citizen, infiltrated by a pair of informants, were accused of seeking automatic weapons to attack the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey.
In the alleged JFK plot, the informant bought Defreitas his video camera and drove him on those airport scouting trips.
Critics say without the informants, the evidence is otherwise sometimes thin.
Kelly says, "We don't want these cases to go forward. We don't want them to morph into people having the ability to act out."