Four would-be terrorists wanted to blow the Bronx apart. Fortunately, FBI agents and police officers snuffed the plot. On Thursday, May 21, the Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Reform Temple emerged unscathed and borough clergy offered thanks as one.
“We are grateful to the police and to the FBI,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, who heads the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. “But we are concerned. We have been attacked. We have to be vigilant.”
James Cromitie of the Bronx met David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen – ex-convicts and converts to Islam – met in prison and attended a Newburgh mosque. Aided by an FBI informant, Shahed Hussain, they plotted to bomb two Riverdale synagogues.
On the night of Wednesday, May 20, the four amateurs packed C-4 plastic explosives into the trunks of cars outside the synagogues. Unbeknownst to them, the bombs were phony, delivered by Hussain, who posed as a Pakistani terrorist.
When Cromitie and company left Riverdale to shoot down a state National Guard plane and detonate the car bombs via cellphone, a small army of police officers smashed the windows of the getaway SUV and marched the plotters to jail. At a press conference, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that Cromitie, 53, was the ringleader. Angry about the war in Afghanistan, he wanted to “do jihad,” according to Hussain.
“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” assistant U.S. attorney Eric Snyder said.
Bronx clergy and faithful, sickened by the news, called for unity and inter-religious understanding.
“Thank God nothing happened,” David Edelstein of the Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway said. “As awful as it is, we need to remember that Pelham Parkway is a multiethnic community. We all get along.”
On May 20, the day the plot failed, Sheikh Moussa Drammeh of the Parkchester-based Islamic Cultural Center took a group of Muslim students from the Bronx to meet a group of Jewish students at the Holocaust Memorial in Manhattan.
“In order to create lasting peace, we must start with the children,” Drammeh said. “We must build relationships early on so what happened [in Riverdale] will never happen again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.