NEW: Jose Pimentel bought bomb ingredients at Home Depot and elsewhere, police say
NEW: The al Qaeda magazine he'd read urged backers to take matters into their own hands
Pimentel, 27, is suspected of plotting to attack U.S. veterans, police and post offices
"There is no evidence he worked with anyone else," Mayor Bloomberg says
Authorities have arrested a man they claim was plotting to detonate pipe bombs in and around New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday night.
The intended targets of Jose Pimentel, 27, were U.S. military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. postal facilities and police in New York and Bayonne, New Jersey, according to Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The suspect was described by Bloomberg as an “al Qaeda sympathizer,” though he is not believed to have ever worked with or received training from anyone in that terrorist organization.
“There is no evidence he worked with anyone else,” Bloomberg said. “He appears to be … a lone wolf.”
The police commissioner identified the suspect as a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric who rose to become a top figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Pimental allegedly tried to contact al-Awlaki directly, but never got a response.
An unemployed native of the Dominican Republican who is a U.S. citizen, Pimentel had lived most of his life in Manhattan, except for five years in Schenectady, New York. He’d had been monitored by authorities since 2009 and his extreme positions “made even some of his like-minded friends nervous,” said Kelly.
The commissioner said that Pimentel even talked about changing his name to Osama Hussein – in honor of his now deceased “heroes,” long-time al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Last August, the suspect allegedly decided to carry out the bomb plot. He “jacked up his speed” after September 30, when al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, according to the police commissioner.
After that strike, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a “eulogy” in which it promised to “retaliate soon” for the deaths of al-Awlaki and three others. That threat prompted the United States to issue a worldwide alert warning of such attacks.
“We knew for the last two years, he’s been reading a lot of jihadist information and talked a lot of inflammatory rhetoric,” Kelly said of Pimentel. “But it appears at this juncture the death of Anwar al-Awlaki motivated him and made him increase his tempo.”
Pimentel bought ingredients for the three bombs that he was working to make at Home Depot and other stores, mindful to shop around so as not to “raise red flags,” according to the commissioner.
He allegedly planned to test an explosive device in a mailbox before using it against other targets. His aim, the police commissioner said, was to show there were “mujahedeen” – or Islamic militants – in the city ready to wage “jihad.”
He was arrested at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in an apartment in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in northern Manhattan, after he began to drill holes in the would-be pipe bomb, Kelly said. While authorities had monitored him for over two years, they decided to move quickly for fear that device may explode, according to the commissioner.
“Pimentel’s behavior morphed from simply talking about such acts to actions – namely, bomb making,” said Kelly.
The suspect allegedly learned how to make a pipe bomb after reading an article entitled “How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom” in Inspire, the al Qaeda terrorist network’s English-language online propaganda, recruiting and training magazine. The issue that came out just before al-Awlaki’s death, for instance, emphasized that al Qaeda supporters in the West should take matters into their own hands and launch attacks themselves.
“He was a reader of al Qaeda’s slick online magazine Inspire – and inspire him it did,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. “His stated desire to attack our servicemen and women … could have come from an al Qaeda playbook.”
Vance said that his office and other New York authorities had long been “in communication with federal authorities.” That said, Pimentel was arrested by state law enforcement agents and will be tried in New York courts.
Specifically, the district attorney announced that his office filed charges Sunday against Pimentel for conspiring to build a bomb for terrorist purposes and possessing a bomb.
Neither Bloomberg, Kelly nor Vance gave details on where Pimentel was being held or when he would appear in court.
It could not be determined Sunday night whether Pimentel had retained an attorney.
CNN’s Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.