Whitestone men plead not guilty to synagogue plot

Ahmed Ferhani 26, left, and Mohamed Mamadouh 20, appear in court with their attorneys for arraignment, Thursday, May 12, 2011, at criminal court in New York. Both men are charged with a terrorist plot targeting New York synagogues. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
By Connor Adams Sheets

The two Whitestone men accused of plotting to blow up synagogues in Manhattan and a church in Queens no longer face the possibility of life behind bars, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

A grand jury Wednesday rejected the highest-level charge that Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh faced in connection with the plot — conspiracy as a terror crime, which carries a sentence up to life in prison, the DA said.

The two men pleaded not guilty in Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday to other charges, including criminal possession of a weapon as a terror crime, the most serious charge they now face, carrying a sentence of up to 32 years in prison.

“A picture emerges from today’s indictment that describes how the defendants plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause,’” Vance said in a statement. “Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime. Any threats to the safety of New Yorkers will be addressed swiftly and aggressively by this office and our partners in the NYPD.”

During remarks outside the court, Elizabeth Fink, a lawyer for Ferhani, called the case “political,” described it as “entrapment and contended that her client was “absolutely not” ever intending to carry out acts of terrorism, the New York Post reported.

“The truth here is that our client has a significant psychological problem,” she said, according to the Post.

Ahmed Ferhani, 26, who is unemployed and moved to America from Algeria, and livery dispatcher Mohamed Mamdouh, an American citizen from Morocco, were arrested about 6 p.m. May 11 at separate locations in Manhattan, the DA said. Vance described the defendants as lone wolves with no direct ties to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

The men’s arrests came after a seven-month investigation handled entirely by local authorities because federal law enforcement declined to get involved.

Mamdouh, who has family on Parsons Boulevard in Whitestone, lives elsewhere in the northeast Queens neighborhood, according to a female relative who answered the phone at the Parsons address. He attended Flushing High School, according to Steven Fusfeld, his attorney. Mamdouh came to America in 1999, police said, and he lived on Parsons Boulevard.

Ferhani, of 143rd Street, was a permanent resident of the United States who arrived in America in 1995, police said. He worked as a sales associate at Saks Fifth Avenue and held an associate degree in business from Borough of Manhattan Community College, according to his profile on the social-networking site LinkedIn, where he was a member of groups for animal lovers, actors and models.

According to the charges, Ferhani and Mamdouh had plotted to disguise themselves as Hasidic Jews who would attend services at an unnamed synagogue in Manhattan, hide a bomb and then leave, based on a discussion with an undercover agent in April. The men also spoke with the agent about making bombs, the criminal complaint said.

The men were arrested May 11 after Ferhani allegedly gave an undercover NYPD detective $100 as a down payment for $700 worth of weapons, including a grenade, three handguns, two magazines and two boxes of ammunition, according to court testimony and the charges. Just before being arrested, Ferhani allegedly said he wanted to purchase more guns, silencers, a box of hand grenades, bullet-resistant vests and police radios, Kelly said.

Mamdouh was not present for the transaction, which allegedly took place in Ferhani’s car on a Midtown Manhattan street, but was on a street in the immediate area at the time of their arrests and allegedly knew about and endorsed the purchase, according to recorded conversations from that evening.

Ferhani and Mamdouh are being held without bail and are due back in court Sept. 20.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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