Were the Newburgh 4 Really Out to Blow Up Synagogues? A Defendant Finally Speaks Out.

Was David Williams IV a terrorist? Or was he just out to make an easy score by scamming the government's informant?

"There was an abundance of evidence supporting the jury's conclusion that the defendants committed the charged crimes, not because they were pressured, persuaded, or enticed by the CI, but because bombing synagogues and firing Stinger missiles was what they wanted to do," they write.

For now, Williams and the rest of the Newburgh 4 can only wait for news from the courthouse. "What we did was stupid, and we deserved and lived up to all the name calls and everything else," Williams writes in that December 31 letter to the Voice. "But from the beginning, we planned to never hurt not one soul. We are far from what the media made us out to be."

On May 20, 2009, when federal agents and police swept in and arrested all four men, the news quickly went national and international. The following day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stood outside a Riverdale synagogue and congratulated the investigation for a job well done.

Family members like Alicia McWilliams say the Newburgh 4 case 
is more FBI fantasy than terrorist takedown.
Lyric Cabral
Family members like Alicia McWilliams say the Newburgh 4 case is more FBI fantasy than terrorist takedown.
Jordin Isip

"The good news here is that the NYPD and the FBI did exactly what they're trained to do and they have prevented what could be a terrible event in our city," Bloomberg told the media the day following the arrests.

Of course, Bloomberg's suggestion that authorities had foiled an actual plot was misleading. There was no real danger. It was all stage-managed by law enforcement.

"These guys were in no way terrorists," says Imam Muhammad, founder of Masjid Al-Iklas, the Newburgh mosque where Hussain went to troll for radical Islamists. "It's unfortunate they could get life in prison for something manufactured by the government, for basically being stupid and going along with what the guy was feeding them."

But as for the tune Williams is now singing—that he was merely led by greed to rip off Hussain—his claims were greeted with skepticism by Anthony Barkow, a former federal prosecutor now teaching at NYU law school.

"It's a very self-serving statement, and it's inconsistent with the entrapment defense at trial," says Barkow, who prosecuted terrorism and white-collar crime with the Justice Department. "Either one or the other is not true, potentially both."

Williams and the other co-defendants had options, Barkow says. "They could have called the police, they could have told the informant to go away," he says. "Now he is saying they wanted to make money. I'm sorry but just because you're a greedy criminal, it doesn't give you the right to get into a deal where you're going to blow up synagogues."

On the other hand, says Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU, the claims seem to fit with the fact that none of them were interested in jihad or politics before the informant came along.

"It sounds like a good defense, which is what he should be trying to mount," she says. "It may or may not be credible, but the underlying narrative seems consistent with the narrative of the trial: that they didn't appear to be committed jihadis, they weren't particularly political."

Greenberg points out that none of the most serious terror cases since January 2009 have involved FBI stings—Umar Abdulmutallab (the "underwear bomber"), Malik Hassan (the Fort Hood shooter), David Headley (plotter of the Mumbai attacks), Najibullah Zazi (9/11 anniversary bomb plotter) and Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square attempted car bomber).

"The issue isn't whether you can get convictions like the Newburgh case, because you can," Greenberg says. "The issue is whether these kinds of cases are really making us safer as a matter of national security, and how do we amass the intelligence to determine who's already dangerous? That's where the resources should go."


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