The four men were arrested after allegedly planting bombs outside two synagogues. They had also bought what they thought was a Stinger missile. All of the ordnance came from undercover law enforcement agents and was fake.
James Cromitie, also known as "Abdul Rahman," David Williams, also known as "Daoud" and "DL," Onta Williams, also known as "Hamza," and Laguerre Payen, also known as "Amin" and "Almondo," now face charges "arising from a plot to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, and to shoot military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles," the FBI said in a statement.
However, "In their efforts to obtain weapons, the defendants dealt with an informant acting under law enforcement supervision, and the FBI and other agencies … (made sure they only received) an inactive missile and inert explosives," the statement said.
The charges were filed in a criminal complaint in White Plains federal court. They "include conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles," the FBI said.
Security analysts have long expressed their concern that extreme Islamist activists have been active in U.S. prisons seeking to convert inmates they could use to carry out terror attacks within the United States. Such converts would in effect serve as "Trojan horses." They would be recruited within the country and would not have to go through the rigorous systems of border security, monitoring and surveillance that foreign nationals visiting the United States have had to undergo since the al-Qaida terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, killed around 3,000 Americans.
The FBI and other U.S. security agencies have often been criticized for carrying out such "sting" operations. Critics allege that the conspiracies revealed could not have been developed as seriously if it were not for the encouragement that undercover agents and informers controlled by the law enforcement agencies had given the plotters.
However, defenders of such tactics reply that they do indeed work, and that no terrorist attacks have been carried out in the past seven and half years on U.S. soil precisely because these operations have been so effective in attracting would-be terrorists who would certainly have found their arms in other ways.
The same day the arrest of the four men was announced, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech on national security at the National Archives in Washington, reaffirming his determination to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
As part of Obama's new policy on operating through established legal and constitutional channels to seek the conviction of terror suspects, the Justice Department announced that Gitmo detainee Ahmed Ghailani, suspected of having a role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, will face trial in a federal court in New York. That would be the first civilian court case for a "high-value detainee" from Guantanamo Bay.
Obama's Gitmo plan has drawn harsh words -- and votes -- from the Democrat-controlled 111th Congress, which has refused Obama's request for $80 million to close the prison -- at least until details of what will happen with the prisoners there are released.
It didn't help that FBI Director Robert Mueller told a House of Representatives committee that moving detainees to the United States could create security issues and increase the chance of an attack on U.S. soil.
Equally concerning for the White House is the criticism it has received when the administration has taken a position, such as the reversal on the release of alleged torture photos, that appears more in line with the Bush administration than Obama supporters like or that candidate Obama espoused a few short months ago.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney gave a very different speech, also on national security, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington Thursday. Cheney was outspoken in defending the widely criticized practice of "waterboarding" some terror suspects to get crucial information out of them and has been roundly critical of Obama's move on this issue.
Cheney's partisan and controversial -- but clear and uncompromising -- speech and the arrests of the four terror suspects in New York state all highlighted the pitfalls and complexities Obama has to navigate in reforming the U.S. legal system while continuing to defend the American people from the very real threat of terrorist conspiracies designed to kill and maim them. The debate will continue.