(Posted 11:30 PM Wednesday)
Four men who planted what they believed were bombs outside two Riverdale synagogues Wednesday night were arrested before they could escape, police announced in a late night press conference.
All four men were also charged with attempting to use antiaircraft missiles to shoot down military planes at a military base in Newburgh, N.Y. They were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles.
Authorities said a federal agent had infiltrated the group and that the FBI — which had the men under surveillance for a year — arrested them in their car before they could flee the scene.
Rabbi Judith Lewis, spiritual leader of the Riverdale Temple, one of the two targeted synagogues, said she was in the synagogue Wednesday evening attending several meetings and was unaware of the drama unfolding outside.
"I was inside the sanctuary untill 8:30 and when I went to the lobby I saw two men," she said. "I was about to ask them to leave when they identified themselves as police officers. They said police action was taking place and they asked us to leave through the back of the building."
She said the officers carried a picture of a suspect they said they had arrested.
"It seemed very well planned like they knew every last detail [of what was happening]," Rabbi Lewis said of the police.
Authorities said the group, which they identified as "home grown terrorists," had also planted "bombs" around the Riverdale Jewish Center about three blocks away. And they said the men had also placed "bombs" under cars parked in front of the Riverdale Temple and had planned to detonate them by remote control.
The "bombs," in fact, were fake devices that were constructed in the lab by FBI technicians.
Authorities said the men were angry over the U.S. war in Afghanistan and had voiced hatred of Jews. All were born in the United States. The alleged ringleader is the son of an Afghan immigrant and the other three are reportedly jailhouse converts to Islam.
Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island) told CNN that the suspects were associated with a mosque in upstate Newburgh.
Rabbi Lewis said she was "relieved" to learn that authorities had the men in their sights all along.
"The police clearly did their job efficiently and graciously and really kept everyone calm," she said. "They made sure there was no panic on the part of everyone in the vicinity."
This was the second attack on synagogues in Riverdale in the last several years. The Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale was attacked with Molotov cocktails by Islamic extremists. The bombs struck the front door and extinguished itself, causing minimal damage.
The alleged ringleader was identified by authorities as James Cromitie. The other three were identified as David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh, in Orange County.