Appeals court upholds JFK bomb plot convictions

AP Photos/Christine Cornell (l.) and Andres Leighton
By Rich Bockmann

A federal appeals court last week upheld the convictions and life sentences of two Guyanese men who were found guilty of plotting to blow up Kennedy Airport and surrounding areas in Queens in 2007.

Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir had contested their 2010 convictions after they were nabbed by the FBI in a failed plot to try to explode fuel tanks at the airport.

They appealed on a number of grounds, including the fact they were tried in Brooklyn’s federal court by an anonymous jury.

The district court argued that due to the nature of the crimes it was likely jurors could face intimidation and/or retribution, and cited reports from jailhouse informants that Defreitas had threatened to harm potential witnesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals found the district court had done its due diligence to ensure a fair jury.

“Defreitas and his co-defendants were charged with serious crimes of terrorism,” Second Circuit Judge John Walker wrote for the three-judge panel Friday. “Their plot to blow up oil pipelines and jet fuel tanks at JFK Airport had the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people. The district court reasonably concluded that the jurors would be fearful if their identities were revealed to these defendants.”

Beginning in 2006, an undercover FBI informant began secretly recording conversations with Defreitas as he, Kadir and two co-conspirators plotted to blow up the airport and surrounding parts of Queens.

Defreitas and the informant conducted surveillance on John F. Kennedy International Airport four times in 2007, videotaping targets including fuel tanks and pipelines.

All four were arrested in June 2007, and after a six-week trial and five days of deliberation by an anonymous jury, Defreitas and Kadir were found guilty.

The two also challenged the life sentences that U.S. Eastern District Judge Dora Irizzary handed down.

“The defendants were convicted of conspiring to explode pipelines and jet fuel tanks at JFK Airport in order to kill countless Americans and other travelers, disrupt air travel and harm the American economy,” Walker wrote. “The gravity of the crimes for which they were convicted easily justifies the life sentences that were imposed.”

Co-conspirator Abdel Nur pleaded guilty before going to trial and filed a notice to appeal, but his attorney withdrew the appeal. Kareem Ibrahim was convicted and given a life sentence in January 2012.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

More from Around New York