NYPD busts lone-wolf terror suspect on verge of finishing bomb
The NYPD busted a lone-wolf al-Qaida sympathizer from Washington Heights who was an hour away from finishing a bomb meant to blow up cop cars, postal facilities and soldiers returning home from abroad, authorities announced last night.
Jose Pimentel, 27, a U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic, was arrested Saturday and charged with three terrorism-related counts and two other counts after police learned he had purchased bomb-making materials and was starting to construct at least one weapon. The NYPD had been monitoring him since May 2009.
"Over two years ago, the NYPD became aware of a follower of the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki ... [who] had talked about becoming a martyr in the name of jihad," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "That was Jose Pimentel."
Kelly was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and District Attorney Cy Vance at the announcement at City Hall. The bomb, presented at the news conference, was powerful enough to blow up a car, Kelly said.
Pimentel's primary targets included the NYPD, postal facilities and military personnel returning home from tours overseas, officials said.
He had initially planned to test his bomb in a mailbox, and was within an hour of finishing his first, officials said. They added, however, that the city wasn't sure where specifically Pimentel was planning to attack. Both Bloomberg and Kelly stressed that Pimentel was acting alone and was not part of a larger plot against the city.
Kelly said that Pimentel had been planning to build and detonate the weapon since August, but his plans greatly accelerated when al-Awlaki was killed in a CIA drone attack in September.
"We know for the last two years he's been reading a lot of jihadist [material] and has talked a lot of inflammatory rhetoric," Kelly said. "But it appears at this juncture that the death of al-Awlaki was what motivated him and made him increase his tempo."
Kelly added that Pimentel tried to contact al-Awlaki, but there was no indication that he received a response. He added that Pimentel talked about changing his name to Osama Hussein.
Unlike many previous terrorism arrests in New York, this one went forward without the help of the FBI, which Kelly said was because Pimentel was an imminent threat.
"The FBI was fully informed of this case," Kelly said, but "because of the immediacy of the situation, that was a significant factor in making the arrest" on Saturday using state terrorism laws.
Officials said this was the 14th terror threat against the city foiled since 9/11.
In an interview with New York police, Pimentel admitted he "took active steps to build the bomb, including shaving the match heads and drilling holes in the pipes," according to court documents.
Bloomberg reminded New Yorkers that terror threats have simply become a fact of life.
"Because we are an iconic city, a city that welcomes people from around the world ... people that want to take away our freedom gravitate to and focus on us," he said.
"It is a battle that perhaps we'll never win, but we have to make sure that we don't lose," he added.
Follow reporter Tim Herrera on Twitter: @tim_herrera