A would-be “lone-wolf” terrorist was arrested in Washington Heights and charged with plotting to use homemade pipe bombs — crafted with Christmas lights, among other materials… — to attack cops as well as military personnel returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, city officials announced at a press conference Sunday night.
Jose Pimentel, 27, who’s also known as Muhammad Yusuf, had three bombs in progress when he was arrested Saturday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, adding that the NYPD had been investigating him for roughly 12 months.
“We had always planned to take him into custody before he could detonate a fully-operational bomb,” Kelly said.
Pimentel was arraigned late Sunday night in Manahttan Criminal Court on various terrorism and weapons possession charges, and was ordered held without bail. He appeared wearing a black v-neck T-shirt, black gym pants, black sneakers and glasses.
He smiled and looked incredulous as prosecutors said they had an air-tight case against him, citing “hours and hours” of video and audio recordings where Pimentel allegedly admitted to the bomb plot. They added that he was roughly “one hour away” from completing the bombs when he was arrested by police.
Sources said he lived on West 137th Street in Hamilton Heights (in Harlem), near City College, but was allegedly assembling bombs in another apartment in Washington Heights…
Sources said he lived on West 137th Street in Hamilton Heights (in Harlem), near City College, but was allegedly assembling bombs in another apartment in Washington Heights. Prosecutors said a “library” of extremist Al Qaeda materials was seized, though it wasn’t immediately clear in which apartment it was allegedly found.
Pimentel was apparently inspired by radical cleric Anwar el Awlaki, Kelly said, adding that the unemployed man who had spent most of his life in Manhattan had contemplated changing his name to “Osama Hussein,” after his “heroes” Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and “was talking about traveling to Yemen for training before returning to New York to become a martyr in the name of jihad.”
Despite being inspired by Al Qaeda, authorities believed Pimentel was just a “lone wolf,” and not part of a larger international conspiracy.
“He didn’t have many friends,” Pimentel’s uncle, Luis Severino, said Sunday night. They had been sharing an apartment for more than two years, Severino said, but added that he rarely saw his nephew.
“We haven’t had much contact,” Severino said in Spanish. “I work during the day. When I would get home at night, he would take off who knows where.”
A neighbor named Sean who declined to give his last name said Pimentel “seemed like a nice guy. The kind of guy who would nod at you and say, ‘hello.’”
The criminal complaint against Pimentel said he maintained a website that promoted radical Islam and contained a link to an article called “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” that was published in “Inspire,” an online magazine created by el Awlaki and Al Qaeda.
The bombs Pimentel was allegedly making were being crafted according to the guidelines set out in the article, Kelly said. Components of those homemade bombs were displayed at the press conference, and included an elbow pipe used in plumbing, an alarm clock and a set of Christmas lights. Kelly added that Pimentel had planned to attach nails to his bombs to make them more deadly.
Some of the materials were purchased at a Home Depot in the Bronx, according to the criminal complaint. An alarm clock, which would have been used as a timer for the bomb, was purchased at a 99 cent store in Manhattan.
The NYPD kept tabs on Pimentel through use of an informant who video-taped him assembling pieces of the bombs including scraping matches for explosive powder, the complaint said. The informant told police Pimentel wanted to use the bombs to kill Marines and soldiers returning from Iraw and Afghanistan, according to the court document. Police also tapped Pimentel’s phone.
Kelly said police moved in on Pimentel when they thought he was close to testing one of his bombs, which authorities believed was to be at an undisclosed postal facility in Upstate New York.
“We weren’t going to wait around to figure out what he wanted do with his bombs,” a law enforcement source told the New York Times.
At the press conference, Bloomberg showed a video of a car exploding that was detonated by a bomb similar to the one Pimentel was allegedly constructing. The video meant to demonstrate the power of that type of bomb.
Joseph Zablocki, Pimentel’s court-appointed attorney, said the NYPD and the DA’s office were overstating their counter-terror achievement by trumpeting the arrest of his client. Pimentel, he said, was very out in the open about his extremist views, as if he was practically inviting the attention of cops and prosecutors. If he was really serious about doing harm, he wouldn’t have been so flagrant, Zablocki said.
Pimentel, a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic, lived in Manhattan for many years before moving to Schenectady, where he lived for five years, Kelly said. He then moved back to the city in 2009, Kelly said.
The move was triggered by Pimentel splitting up with his wife, Kelly added without offering details about their relationship or why it ended.
“The arrest … of an individual suspected of planning to commit a terrorist act in New York demonstrates once again the effectiveness and bravery of our men and women in law enforcement,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “As families across our state gather this holiday season, we will continue to remain in close contact with our federal and local law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.”