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Four men convicted of plot to blow up New York synagogues

A Haitian was among four men convicted of planting bombs outside synagogues and plotting to fire missiles at military planes.

A jury of six women and five men deliberated for eight days in convicting Laguerre Payen, 28, along with three other defendants — Onta Williams, 34, James Cromitie, 44 and David Williams IV, 29. They face up to life in prison.

Payen and Williams were found not guilty of one charge, attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States.

Prosecutors said the men, who all lived in Newburgh, a northern New York City suburb, willingly co-operated with an informer working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who posed as a terrorist and supplied the men with inert bombs and Stinger missile tubes.

On May 20 last year, the men were arrested in the Riverdale section of the Bronx after they planted the bombs in cars outside two synagogues.

The authorities said that they also planned to travel to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh to fire missiles at military transport planes.

“Homegrown terrorism is a serious threat, and today’s convictions affirm our commitment to do everything we can to protect against it,” said Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

“The defendants in this case agreed to plant bombs and use missiles they thought were very real weapons of terrorism,” he added.

Defence attorneys said they will appeal the verdict.

“This is a miscarriage of justice — just like the whole trial and case,” said Susanne Brody, who represents Onta Williams.

Payen’s lawyer, Samuel Braverman, said his client was “stunned”.

Over the course of the nearly eight-week trial, prosecutors relied on recordings of conversations between the informer, Shahed Hussain, and the defendants.

Most of the recordings featured Cromitie, the first of the defendants to meet the informer, and by far the most talkative.

In conversations filled with what prosecutors described as bravado, Cromitie made anti-Semitic statements and talked about committing violent acts. But he also voiced doubts about his intentions.

Defence lawyers said those doubts proved that Cromitie and the other men were reluctant participants, and they argued entrapment.

The lawyers concentrated on painting Hussain as a liar and a manipulator who coaxed impoverished men toward a kind of violence to which they were not predisposed, a requirement of the entrapment defence. The strategy has never been successful in terrorism cases since 9/11, experts say.

“This case should have never happened,” said Alicia McWilliams-McCollum, who is Williams’ aunt, after the verdict was announced.

“You come in to a small isolated urban community to do your wickedness. We have been used, and nobody cares,” she added.


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