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Defense attorneys claim entrapment as NY bomb plot trial opens

From Marcia Biggs, CNN
  • Four men are on trial in New York in an alleged bomb plot
  • They are accused to plotting to blow up two synagogues
  • They are also accused of plotting to fire missiles at U.S. military planes
  • Defense attorneys argue the men were entrapped by an FBI informant

New York (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors said the defendants had a "hatred and thirst for violence," while defense attorneys argued that an FBI informant was the real culprit as opening arguments got underway Tuesday in the trial of four men accused in an alleged bomb plot.

Prosecutors say the men plotted to detonate explosives near two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in May 2009 and also sought to fire missiles at planes at an Air National Guard base. James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen were arrested on May 20, 2009, allegedly after having placed what they thought were bombs at two sites and before making their way to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York.

But no bombs went off that night. The men were part of a year-long sting operation led by a paid FBI informant. The bombs and missiles were not, in fact, armed, but were rather part of the FBI's masquerade. And defense attorneys are calling the situation entrapment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Hickey painted a picture in court of the defendants -- specifically, James Cromitie -- as having a "hatred and thirst for violence." He described the four men as having cased and photographed targets, planned their escape, and talked about public reaction. All the while, a fifth man in their group, a man they knew to be "Maksud" and from whom they were receiving all their funding, was actually an FBI informant who had been taping their conversations and meeting with the FBI.

Hickey described the informant, whose real name is Shaheed Hussein, as having been hired by the FBI to go to a certain mosque and listen for talk of violence against Americans. According to Hickey, Cromitie and Hussein met several times over a period of months, during which time Hussein convinced Cromitie that he was a representative of the Jaish a-Mohammed, a bogus international terrorism ring he said was based in Pakistan and was looking for recruits.

Hickey further charged that Cromitie expressed his desire to "kill Jews" and make America "pay for Afghanistan and other Muslim countries," recruiting Williams and Williams -- who are not related -- along with Payen to be part of the mission to target Jewish institutions and military operations in the United States.

But defense attorneys argued that it was Hussein, not the four defendants, who planned, funded, and directed the entire operation, seducing the poverty-stricken defendants with food, gifts, and promises of a significant payday.

The defense painted a picture of Hussein as a convicted felon who began working for the FBI as part of a plea bargain that kept him from jail and deportation, and paid him $100,000. Defense attorneys alleged that Hussein pressured the four men, whom, they said, he saw as his meal ticket, to agree to be a part of the mission, promising large sums of money and expensive cars and not taking no for an answer.

They further alleged entrapment, as the defendants did not have violent pasts and "could not and would not have been involved in such a conspiracy without Shaheed Hussein."

Vincent L. Briccetti, attorney for Cromitie, called the 100 hours of videotaped conversations between the men "not a documentary but a work of fiction... a movie produced, directed, starred in, and edited by Shaheed Hussein and the FBI." Suzanne Brody, attorney for Onta Williams, suggested the FBI was more interested in instigating and initiating, rather than investigating.

The trial will resume Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan at 9:30 a.m. ET