U.S. officials (often anonymous) question credibility or seriousness of cases:
The case of Jose Pimentel, a Manhattan Muslim convert who was arrested in November 2011 on “rarely used state-level terrorism charges” after federal authorities took a pass on the case.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. alleged that Pimentel had been “building pipe bombs to be used against our citizens.” City authorities said Pimentel had no contacts with foreign terrorist groups and called him a “lone wolf.”
In a series of leaks, federal authorities expressed skepticism that Pimentel was a threat. A federal source told the New York Post that Pimentel was a “‘stoner’ who wasn’t a real danger to anybody other than himself.” Another source cited by the Post questioned his mental faculties, saying he had once tried to circumcise himself. A federal source told DNAInfo criminal justice editor Murray Weiss: “Let’s just say there were issues whether [Pimentel] had the ability to do this without the intercession of the confidential informant.” Weiss also noted that the informant went shopping with Pimentel at Home Depot to buy pipe bomb materials, and the bomb was constructed at the informant’s apartment. Pimentel, who reportedly could not afford to even pay his cell phone bill, has pleaded not guilty.
The case of Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, alleged “Islamic extremists” and “lone wolves” who lived in Queens and were arrested in May 2011 after buying guns, ammo, and an inert grenade from an undercover police agent. The authorities alleged that the two men were planning to attack a New York synagogue because they were upset with how Muslims were being treated around the world.
But the case was another example of an alleged plot that the FBI took a pass on. Citing federal law enforcement sources, WNYC reported that the FBI passed on the case because the bureau found the undercover operation “problematic” and the allegations “over-hyped.” And the website NYPD Confidential reported that Ferhani has a history of mental illness.
The AP noted the case faltered early on when a grand jury declined to indict the two men on a high-level terrorism conspiracy charge. Both have pleaded not guilty to lesser terrorism charges.
Brooklyn Bridge Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris pleaded guilty in 2003 to providing material support to al Qaeda; he met with senior al Qaeda leaders abroad and researched how to attack the Brooklyn Bridge. Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen has called Faris “an actual al Qaeda foot soldier living in the United States who had the serious intention to wreak havoc in America” but “not much of a competent terrorist.” Bergen wrote the plan Faris researched to sever the bridge’s cables with a blowtorch as “akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.”
The plot never got off the ground. According to the Justice Department, Faris sent messages to Pakistan “indicating he had been unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain the necessary equipment.” According to the DOJ, Faris also concluded after a trip to New York that the idea “was very unlikely to succeed because of the bridge’s security and structure.”
PATH Train In 2006, 31-year-old Assem Hammoud was arrested in Lebanon. FBI officials announced that he and others 2014 who had never met but communicated on the Internet 2014 had been plotting a suicide attack on subway tubes under the Hudson River.
The Washington Post quoted U.S. counterterrorism officials questioning the credibility of the plot, reporting that they “discounted the ability of the conspirators to carry out an attack.” One official described the matter as “jihadi bravado,” adding, “somebody talks about tunnels, it lights people up.” A counterterrorism official told the Times, “[t]hese are bad guys in Canada and a bad guy in Lebanon talking, but it never advanced beyond that.”
Hammoud never visited the U.S., and there were no charges brought against him here. In 2012, Hammoud was sentenced to two years in prison in Lebanon, which he had already served.