New York

A History of New Yorkers-Turned-Terrorists Since 9-11


Update, 4/2/15: Two Queens residents, Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, both American citizens, have been charged with conspiring to build a bomb and detonate it at an unnamed target in the United States. In a criminal complaint filed at Brooklyn’s Federal District Court today, the two women, who were roommates at the time, were found to have bought four propane gas tanks, potassium gluconate, and Miracle-Gro, all of which can be used to make bombs. An undercover agent states in the complaint that the women “implied that their goal was to learn how to blow up a bomb from afar rather than conduct a suicide bombing.”

Our original story is below:

The three Brooklyn residents arrested in February for planning to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are set to appear in court on March 11.

The FBI says the Brooklyn trio — Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19; Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24; and Abror Habibov, 30 — planned to join ISIS in Syria and had posted online messages about committing domestic acts of terror, including bombing Coney Island and shooting police officers. Juraboev and Saidakhmetov will be appearing in federal court in Brooklyn on March 11. And Habibov, the alleged financial sponsor of the plot to fly Juraboev and Saidakhmetov to Syria, waived a bail hearing on March 3 in Florida, where he was arrested. He is scheduled for a hearing on March 10 in Jacksonville to have him extradited to New York. If convicted of their charge of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, the three men face up to fifteen years in prison.

Saidakhmetov, Juraboev, and Habibov may be the first New Yorkers to be accused of working with — or attempting to work with — ISIS, but the city has a history of busting wannabe terrorists in the thirteen years since the 9-11 attacks. Here’s a rundown of New Yorkers—turned-terrorists since 9-11:

The Parachas

In 2006, 25-year-old Brooklyn resident Uzair Paracha was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison after being convicted for helping an Al Qaeda operative enter the United States to commit a terrorist act. Paracha, a Pakistani national with permanent-resident-alien status in the United States, enjoyed deep New York roots, including attending the Rainbow Montessori preschool in Queens before his family returned to Pakistan. His mother was a sociology graduate student at the New York University and his father, Saifullah Paracha, was a businessman who shuttled between Karachi and New York. Saifullah, a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology, was also accused of aiding Al Qaeda and conspiring to smuggle in explosives. He’s currently being held at Guantánamo Bay.

The Herald Square Station Bombing Plot

In 2004, authorities arrested Queens resident and Pakistani national Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay, from Staten Island, for plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station. According to prosecutors, the men wanted to avenge the mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Unlike Siraj, who had been residing in the United States illegally for almost six years by the time of his arrest, Elshafay was a U.S.-born citizen who even attended Tottenville High School in Staten Island. He suffered from depression and schizophrenia. Osama Eldawoody, a 50-year-old Egyptian immigrant, who had been working as a paid police informant, foiled the men’s plans. For cooperating with authorities after his arrest, Elshafay was sentenced to five years in prison, while Siraj got 30 years in a federal prison.

The JFK Plan

Airport cargo handler and Brooklyn resident Russell Defreitas masterminded a scheme with three other men to detonate the fuel storage tanks and supply lines for the John F. Kennedy Airport in 2006. The following year, Defreitas, a naturalized American citizen, was apprehended by authorities. The men had traveled to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago several times before their arrest to seek the financial assistance of Trinidad-based extremist Islamic group Jamaat al Muslimeen. They had even discussed reaching out to an Al Qaeda explosives expert. Authorities planted an informant next to Defreitas who disclosed the men’s plans. All three were extradited to the United States to stand trial. Defreitas was arrested in New York and received a life sentence in 2011 after being convicted on five counts of conspiracy, including conspiracy to attack a public transportation system.

The LIRR Plot

Long Islander Bryant Neal Vinas traveled to Pakistan in 2007 to fight against American forces in Afghanistan. He was later arrested by Pakistani forces in 2008 and transferred to FBI custody. Vinas was raised Catholic in Medford, New York, by his Argentinian mother and Peruvian father, but in 2004 he converted to Islam. Vinas was one of the many Westerners motivated to Islamic extremism by the teachings of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. According to the NYPD’s lists of known terrorist plots, in 2008, “Vinas spoke to Al Qaeda about targeting the Long Island Rail Road using a suitcase bomb that would be left in a car and set to detonate. He drew maps of Long Island and showed that all LIRR trains passed through one tunnel when entering Manhattan, suggesting that an explosion in the tunnel would cause the most damage.”

The revelation led authorities to issue a terror alert on November 25, 2008. The 31-year-old is currently being held by U.S. Marshals at an undisclosed location in New York.

The Subway System Plot

Queens residents Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, of Afghan descent, and Bosnian Adis Medunjanin plotted to bomb the New York City subway system in September 2009, around the eighth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. The trio had also been radicalized by the teachings of cleric Awlaki. Before the plot they received military training from high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives, who urged the men to return to the U.S. to carry out attacks. The FBI in collaboration with the NYPD received a tip that thwarted the plot. In 2012, Medunjanin was convicted of, among other charges, conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and was sentenced to life in prison. His conspirators Zazi and Ahmedzay are awaiting sentencing.

“We Will Blow Up a Synagogue in Manhattan”

In April 2011, before an NYPD operation later that year foiled his plans, Algerian-born Queens resident Ahmed Ferhani threatened to blow up synagogues and churches in Manhattan. He and an accomplice were arrested in May 2011 and Ferhani became the first terrorist convicted under New York State’s anti-terrorism law. Like other terrorist recruits from the Big Apple, Ferhani sought to avenge the abuse of Muslims. He was sentenced in March 2013 to ten years in a state prison after he pleaded guilty in 2012 to terrorism-related charges.

The Liar
Native New Yorker and Staten Island resident Abdel Hameed Shehadeh traveled to Pakistan in 2008 with plans of joining the Taliban or Al Qaeda to wage a violent jihad against the U.S. military. Shehadeh was arrested in 2010 for lying to federal authorities about his real reason for traveling to Pakistan, after he purchased a one-way ticket to Islamabad in 2008. Pakistani officials, however, denied him entry into the country and Shehadeh returned to New York. He also created and ran websites that advocated jihad against the West and promoted the teachings of Awlaki and other Al Qaeda leaders. He was convicted in 2013 and was sentenced to thirteen years in prison.

The Long Island Friends
Two American citizens and Long Island residents were arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to Al Qaeda. The friends, Marcos Alonso Zea and Justin Kaliebe, had sought to travel abroad to join terrorist groups and wage jihad. In 2011, Zea allegedly flew from John F. Kennedy Airport to London en route to Yemen, where he hoped to offer assistance to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was turned back to the U.S. by British customs agents. According to George Venizelos, then the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, when Zea’s trip to Yemen failed, he allegedly decided to finance Kaliebe’s terrorist ambitions. Kaliebe was arrested in January 2013 at JFK while trying to board a flight to Oman with the intent of reaching Yemen. Kaliebe pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges and may face up to 30 years in prison. Zea is currently being prosecuted in the Eastern District of New York.

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