- Jose Pimentel, 29, was arrested in November 2011 for building pipe bombs
- He plotted to attack soldiers returning from combat as well as civilians, prosecutors say
- Pimentel pleads guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon as an act of terrorism
- Under plea deal, he'll receive a 16-year term at his sentencing March 25
A New York man described as a lone wolf terror suspect pleaded guilty Wednesday to building improvised explosive devices, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.
Jose Pimentel, 29, also known as Muhammad Yousuf, was arrested on November 19, 2011, and charged with building pipe bombs and planning to use them against U.S. military personnel and civilians.
Pimentel had pipes with drilled holes, incendiary powder, electronic circuits to be used as ignition devices, clocks, and nails that would have been used as shrapnel, prosecutors said. The components matched "a step-by-step guide in Al Qaeda's Inspire Magazine on how to make a bomb designed to maximize casualties," prosecutors said in a statement.
Pimentel also maintained a website with links to bomb-making recipes, on which he "strongly advocated violence against United States citizens and government agencies, including police stations, political facilities, embassies, and airports," the statement said.
"The most important part of this case is not what happened, but what didn't happen," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said at a news conference Wednesday.
Pimentel pleaded guilty to one count of felony attempted criminal possession of a weapon as an act of terrorism. Under a plea agreement, he will receive a 16-year term at his sentencing March 25.
"This was a lone wolf who formulated a significant part of his terror plot through the use of the Internet," police Commissioner William Bratton said in a statement. "Fortunately this threat was thwarted."
Police said Pimentel was a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric. Al-Awlaki rose to become a top figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before a U.S. drone strike killed him in 2011 in Yemen. Vance said Pimentel's "violent ideology, and his plan to implement that ideology, came in least in part from Inspire Magazine, an Al Qaeda playbook."
Pimentel was charged in 2011 on several terrorism conspiracy charges, including possession of a bomb for terrorism, conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and soliciting support for a terrorist act.
According to court documents, he told police he was an hour away from completing his first bomb when he was arrested.
Vance said that in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, New York lawmakers passed an anti-terror law that designated as "a crime of terrorism any crime of violence, or any criminal conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, that is committed with intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." The first conviction under the law came in December 2012. In that case, Ahmed Ferhani was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to terror-related charges for plotting to bomb synagogues in Manhattan.
The Manhattan district attorney prosecuted Pimentel's case after federal prosecutors declined to pursue it. Pimentel's lawyers have suggested that their client may have been entrapped.
"Mr. Pimentel has admitted his guilt under oath to the possession of a pipe bomb -- after two and a half years of working with law enforcement, two confidential informants, given shelter, access to marijuana, access to food, access to the Internet," said Susan Walsh, one of Pimentel's attorneys. "The fundamental question that will not be answered, at least in the court of law, is who exactly is recruiting who in this war -- this so called war on terrorism?"