Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the arrest of eight followers of radical Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman for conspiring to carry out a campaign of terrorism against New York City landmarks and officials.
The arrests not only foreshadowed efforts to attack New York City in the years since 1993 - most horrifically on September 11, 2001 - but also how terrorists link their opposition to America with their hatred of Jews and Israel.
The major landmarks that were targeted in the 1993 plot included the United Nations Headquarters, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge and the FBI office. Notably, the plotters also discussed attacking New York’s diamond district, an area largely populated by Jewish businessmen, which, according to one them, would be like “hitting Israel itself.”
The arrest came four months after a car bombing at Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York City killed six people and wounded more than 1,000 others. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the attack, first planned to bomb Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but settled on the World Trade Center because “the majority of people who work in the World Trade Center are Jews,” according to Abdul Rahman Yasin, a co-conspirator in the attack.
In the 20 years since the foiled landmarks plot and first World Trade Center bombing, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideologies remain a core feature in the propaganda distributed by terrorist organizations.
For example, every issue of Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, which has influenced numerous international and domestic extremists, including the Boston Marathon Bombers, has been saturated with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel narratives. The ability for Al Qaeda to disseminate such propaganda online and recruit would-be Jihadists around the world was virtually unheard on in June 1993.
But while the communication and recruitment has significantly changed, efforts to attack New York remain unchanged, as do the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel motivations. Several post-9/11 plots and conspiracies targeting Jews have taken place around the country and in New York in particular. For example:
- In May 2011, Ahmed Ferhani, a legal resident from Algeria, and Mohammad Mamdouh, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Moroccan decent, were arrested for plotting to attack a synagogue in New York City in order to advance their radical ideological goals. During his sentencing, Ferhani said, “I repeatedly discussed…my anger towards Jews based on what I believed and perceived to be their mistreatment of Muslims throughout the world. I intended to create chaos and send a message of intimidation and coercion to the Jewish population of New York City, warning them to stop mistreating Muslims.” New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Ferhani planned to grow out his beard in order to look “more like a Jew” and enter a synagogue more easily.
- Zarein Ahmedzay, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan, admitted in federal court that he and two other New Yorkers planned to detonate homemade explosives on New York City subway lines during the days following the eighth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. While entering his guilty plea, Ahmedzay stated that “the real enemies of this country are the ones destroying this country from within” and condemned “a special group of Zionist Jews” who want to “establish a permanent shadow government in the United States of America.”
- A similar plot occurred in 2009, when four men, including three American Muslim converts, planned to attack synagogues in the Bronx and a military base in Newburgh, in response to perceived American actions against Muslims around the world. The men planted what they believed to be bombs in cars outside of the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center. In a conversation with an undercover informant, one of the plotters, James Cromitie, stated his desire to “destroy” the Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi (Jews),” Cromitie stated. “With no hesitation, I will kill 10 Yahudis.”
- In 2007, Russell Defreitas, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Guyana, and three other men were arrested for plotting to attack New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The men planned the attack in part because they wanted to take revenge on the U.S. for its diplomatic relationship with Israel. Defreitas later reportedly told an informant that Muslims “incur the wrath of the world while Jews get a pass,” and that he “wanted to do something to get those bastards.” Court documents have also alleged that Defreitas had suggested targeting a nearby Jewish school or a predominately Jewish neighborhood.
- In 2004, American citizen James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj, a Pakistani who was in the U.S. illegally, plotted to bomb New York's Herald Square subway station. In conversations secretly recorded by an undercover informant, Elshafay talked about his hatred of “Zionists” and his solidarity with the Palestinians, according to court documents. The men also watched terrorist videos at the bookstore where Siraj worked, and Siraj gave Elshafay books that claimed the Jews were conspiring to take over the world's economy.