Newburgh 4 Terror Cell Convicted, But Case Tainted by Informant's Behavior

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After eight days of deliberating, a federal jury has convicted four Newburgh men accused of plotting to bomb synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and of scheming to fire a missile at aircraft.

They were arrested in May 2009, in Riverdale, after they planted what they thought were active bombs, but were actually duds, in cars outside two synagogues.

The convictions was largely based on tape recordings and the claims of a government informant codenamed "Malik." The government used the very same informant, Shahed Hussein, in a previous case in Albany that led to the convictions of a pizza parlor owner and an imam for agreeing to launder $50,000 in a made-up plot to bring a missile to the U.S. and assassinate the Pakistani prime minister.

The unseemly thing about the so-called Newburgh 4 case, as the Voice wrote last year, was that Malik didn't stumble across a legitimate terror cell already plotting to rain destruction on American soil.

Instead, in both the Newburgh and Albany cases, he needed long periods of time to recruit these men and spin elaborate tales about his ties to terrorist organizations, all the while plying his targets with cash and gifts to go along with the plot.

The so-called Newburgh 4 -- Onta Williams, Laguerre Payen, James Cromitie, and David Williams IV -- were all low-level crooks who only got involved at Hussein's insistence. Left alone, it is highly doubtful they ever would have come up with the scheme.

Lawyers for the men used the entrapment defense, which made sense given the circumstances, but it didn't work. All four men face up to life in prison. Perhaps the judge will take Hussein's role in manipulating the men into account when he sentences them.

In the recordings, Cromitie is heard making derogatory comments about Jews and talking about violence, but he also expressed doubts about the plot. Articles have described Cromitie as the "mastermind," but really it was Hussein who was pulling the strings.

The defense, as the Associated Press noted today, tried to reduce the effect of the tape recordings by labeling them a "movie written, produced, and directed" by the FBI.

Hussein "is a liar, straight-up," Cromitie's lawyer, Vincent Briccetti, told jurors, according to the AP. "He's not just any old liar -- he lied to you."

Added Briccetti, quoted by the AP: "Without the help of the FBI, Cromitie wasn't going to do anything."


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