Accused airport bomb plotters face New York trial

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Two accused Islamist extremists charged with planning to bomb a New York airport are due to stand trial this week in the first case involving an alleged plot against the city to go before a local jury since 2006.


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Jurors will be asked to decide whether two men, American Russel Defreitas, 66, and Guyanese Abdul Kadir, 58, a former member of parliament in his South American country, joined in a conspiracy to blow up buildings, fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

They face life in prison if convicted by jurors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Opening statements in the trial are due to be held on Wednesday.

While New York was the target of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as well as other plots such as the botched Times Square car bombing in May, relatively few cases involving those incidents actually go to trial.

Of the suspects charged in the 11 plots against New York City that authorities say they have foiled since the September 11 attacks, many have been charged in other countries or have pleaded guilty and avoided trial.

For example, Pakistani-born American citizen Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty in the Times Square incident on June 21.

The last case of a direct threat to New York City to go to trial was that of Shahawar Matin Siraj, a Pakistani. He was convicted by a jury in 2006 of scheming to bomb Manhattan's Herald Square subway station.

TWO OTHERS CHARGED


Two other men charged in the alleged airport plot will not stand trial. Abdel Nur, 60, who is Guyanese, will likely plead guilty to the charges on Tuesday, according to court documents. Kareem Ibrahim, of Trinidad and Tobago, was deemed too ill.

The four men were arrested and charged in 2007.

The alleged plot was nowhere near operational when the men were arrested, officials have said. But destruction of parts of the 40-mile pipeline to the airport from neighboring New Jersey could have devastated large swaths of the city, authorities said at the time of the June 2007 arrests.

Jury selection under Judge Dora Irizarry began more than two weeks ago. The jurors will remain anonymous due to security concerns.

Asked her thoughts about terrorist threats against New York, one jury candidate said: "Being a New Yorker, I can't let that affect my judgment or else I wouldn't be able to leave my house."

Defreitas, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Guyana, was a former airport employee who conducted surveillance for the group, using his knowledge of the site to identify targets and escape routes, authorities said.

The men sought the help of Jamaat Al Muslimeen, an Islamist extremist group in Trinidad that was behind a 1990 coup attempt on the island, authorities said in court papers.

Defense lawyers on Monday asked the judge to delay the start of the trial, saying they need more time because prosecutors released a crucial piece of evidence too late. That evidence -- a memo by investigators -- showed the men had been spurred on by a government informant, the lawyers said.

The city's new counterterrorism chief, Richard Daddario, said on Monday that there was no "easy way of dealing" with plots planned by people living in the United States.

Among Daddario's duties will be to oversee the creation of a network of surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan and security for a possible trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused September 11 mastermind.

Strong opposition to Mohammed being tried in New York City forced U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to consider other options, but no decision has yet been made on where he will be tried.

"Speaking only for myself, I think a completely fair trial, an absolutely completely fair trial, could be conducted in a place where the costs and disruption would be far less severe than in New York City," Daddario told reporters in a conference call from Moscow.
 
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