Federal agents and city police picked up the men during an overnight raid on a mosque, with armed officers sealing off a block in downtown for several hours. The men allegedly sought help from a confidential informant and were attempting to launder money to purchase the missiles.
The raid was staged sometime between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. A home across the street from the storefront mosque was also raided.
The men — Yassim Muhhidin Aref, 34, Imam of the Majid Al Salam mosque; and Mohammed Mosharref Hoosain, 49, founder of the mosque — are suspected of providing material support for terrorism and are believed to have ties to the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.
The arrests were the result of a long-running FBI operation. The arrests may have been ordered because one of the men purchased a plane ticket, Martin reports.
There was no report of any link to the current, which is based on intelligence that al Qaeda was targeting financial centers in the United States.
Calls to the U.S. attorney's office early Thursday morning were not immediately returned. An FBI spokesman said a press conference was tentatively set Thursday afternoon in Washington.
Some mosque members held morning prayers Thursday on a nearby sidewalk.
"This, we believe, is an act of … bias and stereotyping - an undo scrutiny of the Muslim community," Faisal Ahmad, a worshipper at the mosque, tells CBS Radio News. "It is certainly difficult on the Muslim community to have these type of investigations, especially in the middle of the night, and to come and find their house of worship closed for prayers.
"Unscheduled visits in the middle of the night are really difficult for the Muslim community and create a lot of fear."
Last August, three men accused in a plot to smuggle shoulder-fired missiles that could shoot down a commercial airliner wereafter an international sting operation.
In the sting, the men allegedly tried to sell a dummy Russian-made SA-18 Igla missile to undercover agents posing as terrorists.
Although weapons experts say the Igla is the most sophisticated, accurate and difficult-to-obtain portable rocket, there are other choices for terrorists, including hundreds of American-made Stinger shoulder-fired missiles the United States sold to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
There are also thousands of a class of missile known in the West as the SA-7 Grail and in Russia as the Strela, or Arrow, which have been produced in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, the former Yugoslavia, Egypt and other countries. Some have sold for as little as $500, according to U.S. intelligence.
They tend to weigh just 35 to 40 pounds, and their 5-foot tubes are compact enough to be easily concealed in a large duffel bag.
Although their performance varies depending on the type, the missiles tend to have a minimum range of 600 yards and a maximum of roughly 3 miles, and can hit airborne targets ranging from 50 feet to 10,000 feet.
The last known attempt to shoot down an aircraft with a missile was in 2002, when two missilestaking off from the airport in Mombasa, Kenya. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.