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New York police arrest man in suspected bomb plot

Officials say he is a U.S. citizen and Al Qaeda sympathizer who planned to attack police cars, post offices and U.S. service members.

November 20, 2011|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York — Police said Sunday they had arrested a U.S. citizen who planned to bomb police cars and post offices and kill U.S. servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to protest the American military presence in those countries.

Jose Pimentel, 27, a convert to Islam, had been under surveillance for two years but seemed to have stepped up his bomb-making activities and plotting after the Sept. 30 killing by U.S. forces of Anwar Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born cleric who was living in Yemen, authorities said. Awlaki was a prominent voice for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Awlaki's death "really set him off," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a Sunday night news conference at City Hall. He called Pimentel a "lone wolf."

Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Pimentel appeared to have been acting alone and had learned to make bombs by reading an article in Awlaki's online magazine, Inspire, that was titled "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom."

Pimentel, who was divorced, went to Home Depot and other stores to buy the bomb-making ingredients, "being careful not to make all these purchases from any one location all the time," Kelly said. "He wanted to avoid raising any red flags."

But Pimentel already had raised suspicions when he was living in Schenectady, N.Y., where, according to Kelly, he pondered changing his name to Osama Hussain because of his loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and discussed with associates traveling to Yemen to learn how to wage war on U.S. soil. It was through those associates, who were not identified, that law enforcement officials became aware of Pimentel, Kelly said.

Police burst into Pimentel's apartment about 3:30 p.m. Saturday and arrested him. Kelly said they had been forced to move quickly because Pimentel was on the verge of finishing one bomb and testing it in a mailbox. "We had to act quickly yesterday because he was in fact putting this bomb together," Kelly said.

Officials displayed a close-up photograph of Pimentel wearing a black short-sleeve shirt and appearing to be cooking something in a small pot. They also played a video to demonstrate what one of his bombs might have done had it been detonated. It showed a sedan exploding and flames shooting from its interior. An example of a bomb consisting of a small clock, a small pipe and a battery also was on display.

Pimentel, who was born in the Dominican Republic, had lived in Schenectady for about five years before moving to the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan about a year ago, Kelly said.

Manhattan District Atty. Cyrus Vance Jr. said Pimentel had been charged with conspiring to build a bomb for terrorist purposes and with possessing a bomb.

Bloomberg said this was at least the 14th attempt to attack the city that had been foiled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. The previous incidents include an attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, and a plot to blow up subways or other targets in conjunction with the eighth anniversary of the 2001 attacks. In both cases, the men arrested pleaded guilty and said they acted to protest U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both are serving life sentences.

Federal authorities in Washington said that although they were not directly involved in leading the investigation, they were advised of its progress and told that New York police officials decided to arrest the suspect Saturday afternoon because he appeared close to completing a pipe bomb.

The federal authorities noted that the suspect was arrested by local police and is being prosecuted by the New York district attorney's office. They said the complaint filed against Pimentel alleges that he told New York police that he had already begun "shaving the match heads and drilling holes in the pipes" to insert the bomb parts, and that he was just "one hour away from completing it."

Federal authorities also said this is not the first time since the 2001 attacks that local New York law enforcement officials have conducted their own anti-terrorism investigation without bringing in federal authorities. They cited a case in 2004 when two terrorism suspects were believed to be plotting to ignite bombs in the New York area, and New York police and their intelligence division shut down the operation.

tina.susman@latimes.com

Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report.

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