Image: Ahmed Ferhani 26, left, and Mohamed Mamadouh 20, right
Louis Lanzano  /  AP
Ahmed Ferhani 26, left, and Mohamed Mamadouh 20, appear in court with their attorneys for arraignment, Thursday, May 12, 2011, at Criminal court in New York. Both men are charged with a terrorist plot targeting New York synagogues.
NBC News and news services
updated 5/12/2011 7:52:42 PM ET 2011-05-12T23:52:42

Two men being held without bail in New York after allegedly buying guns and a grenade wanted to disguise themselves as Jewish worshippers to bomb synagogues "one after another," officials said Thursday.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said one of the suspects also expressed interest in bombing the Empire State Building.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the two suspects arrested late Wednesday plotted to bomb a "major synagogue" in Manhattan and bought several weapons and a hand grenade from an undercover officer who earned their trust.

Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, both of Queens, were arrested on conspiracy, hate crime and weapons charges after a seven-month investigation by the New York Police Department, said NBC station WNBC.

They were arraigned late Thursday afternoon in a Manhattan court. Ferhani, of Algerian descent, wore a pin-striped suit and carried a Yankees cap; Mamdouh, of Moroccan descent, wore jeans. They were being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.

Their attorneys said the two denied the charges

"Mr. Ferhani tells me he hasn't committed any crime at all," said lawyer Stephen Pokart.

Mamdouh's attorney, Steven Fusfeld, noted that even under the prosecutor's version of the events, which he doesn't think was true, Mamdouh's alleged involvement is less than Ferhani's and it wasn't right to treat them both the same.

"My client says he is not guilty of these crimes," he said. "He's upset because he maintains he committed no crime."

'We gonna be victorious'
Officials said investigators had been using an undercover detective wearing a wire to track Ferhani for several months. They said the detective heard Ferhani say he hated Jews and was fed up with the way Muslims — especially Palestinians — were treated around the world.

"They're treating us like dogs," Ferhani said once, according to Kelly.

Ferhani is also the one who expressed interest in the Empire State Building attack, Kelly said.

According to a criminal complaint drafted under state terror laws, Ferhani told the detective about "his intent to participate in jihad," meaning holy war, and that "he would become a martyr."

Over time, Ferhani "showed a pattern of growing anger, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

"His plans became bigger and more violent with every passing week," Vance said.

The undercover detective had several meetings with the men during which Ferhani discussed the idea of attacking a synagogue, the complaint said. Mamdouh emphasized the need for proper training, the complaint said, so they would not get caught like "the one that put the car in Times Square" — a reference to the failed bombing last year by Faisal Shahzad.

Ferhani suggested disguising himself as a worshipping Jew so he could infiltrate a synagogue and leave a bomb inside, the complaint said. He also discussed using grenades, "and described pulling the pins and throwing them into the synagogue," it added.

"It was clear that they intended to do that bombing on behalf of Islam and to send a message to the Jewish population," Assistant District Attorney Margaret Gandy told a judge.

On May 5, the undercover detective introduced the men to another officer pretending to be an illegal gun dealer at a meeting where Ferhani stated he needed the weapons "for the cause," the complaint said.

Image: New York police arrest two men in a sting operation
HO  /  Reuters
A New York police photo shows officers arresting two men in a sting operation after they allegedly bought a hand grenade and guns to attack synagogues, kill Jews and blow up the Empire State Building, authorities said on Thursday.

"We gonna be victorious," it quoted Ferhani as saying.

At a roadside meeting Wednesday on Manhattan's West Side, one of the undercover officers handed Ferhani a bag holding three handguns, three boxes of ammo and the inert grenade. As soon as Ferhani put the bag into the trunk of a car, he was arrested, the complaint said. Mamdouh was picked up nearby.

New York City police have been on high alert for potential threats to the city since the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden over a week ago, though Kelly said the men had no apparent link to al-Qaida.

"We are concerned about lone wolves acting against New York city in the wake of the killing of bin Laden," Bloomberg said. "Those perhaps are the toughest to stop."

New York 'always ... a target'
Officials refused to give details on how the first undercover officer met Ferhani, who later introduced the officer to Mamdouh.

Ferhani, who had been arrested for a robbery in Manhattan last October, was known to the department through intelligence before the arrest. Police said they shared the information with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which declined to pursue the case federally.

Authorities said Ferhani, an unemployed aspiring actor, moved to the U.S. in August 1995 from Algeria with two siblings and his parents, who claimed asylum. He has been living in Queens and had been granted permanent resident status by authorities, but he is facing deportation.

Mamdouh, a tall lanky man who is a native of Casablanca, is a taxi service dispatcher. He came to the United States with his parents in August 1999 and is now a U.S. citizen, officials said. His attorney said he lives in Queens with his brother and sister, and his parents are local business owners. He is also facing an unrelated burglary case in Queens, Gandy said.

"Fortunately, long before their aspirations could take hold, New York City police officers were watching them and were in a position to take them into custody, before they could maim and murder innocent New Yorkers," Bloomberg said.

New York passed its own anti-terrorism law within six days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but this case is the first time it has been used to prosecute suspected terrorism.

"New York City is an international symbol of freedom and liberty, and for that reason we will always be a target," Bloomberg said. "And we will always be on guard to protect the people of this city."

"This latest case reminds us that we must remain vigilant every day," Kelly said.

Four men were arrested in 2009 on charges they plotted to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an air base upstate.

A federal jury in Manhattan convicted the men last year.

The case recalled another NYPD investigation that resulted in the conviction of a Pakistani immigrant on charges he plotted to bomb the subway station in Herald Square to avenge the wartime abuses of Iraqis.

The suspect, Shahawar Matin Siraj, had caught the attention of a police informant and an undercover officer — both assigned to track Islamic extremists following the Sept. 11 attacks — with his anti-American rants.

After plotting with the informant, Siraj and another man who later became a cooperator against him were arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention carrying crude diagrams of the subway station situated below a dense shopping district that includes Macy's flagship department store.

Siraj was sentenced in 2007 to 30 years in prison.

WNBC's Jonathan Dienst, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Bloomberg: Suspects planned to 'maim and murder' New Yorkers

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