Guyanese pleads guilty in JFK bomb plot

NEW YORK, United States, Wednesday June 30, 2010 – A day before he was set to go on trial for being part of a New York airport bomb plot, Guyanese Abdel Nur changed his plea to guilty, leaving two of his co-accused to face the music alone today.

The 60-year-old will have to wait until November 18th to be sentenced for providing material support to terrorism, but the maximum 15 years that judge could impose is a far cry from the life imprisonment Nur would have faced if found guilty at the end of a trial.

Nur’s plea in the Brooklyn, New York court was part of a deal with prosecutors, but there has been no indication that he will testify against the other accused.

Reading from a prepared statement before US District Judge Dora Irizzary yesterday, Nur, who was arrested in 2007, admitted knowing about the plot to blow up buildings, fuel tanks and pipelines at the John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and admitted that he helped.

“Between November of 2006 and June of 2007, I became aware that individuals whom I had known for an extended period of time were developing a plan that had as its goal the use of an explosive device or material to destroy or extensively damage fuel tanks,” he said.

“I understood the goal of the planning of the destruction of fuel tanks and fuel by planes was to cause major economic loss in the United States,” he added.

Fellow Guyanese and former parliamentarian, Abdul Kadir, 58; and former JFK cargo worker Russell Defreitas, a 66-year-old native of Guyana and US citizen, will go on trial today for their part in the plot, while 59-year-old Trinidadian Kareem Ibrahim will have his trial at a later date because he is too ill.

Prosecutors have alleged that beginning in January 2006 and up to the time they were arrested, the four men were planning to blow up the airport. According to the indictment, the plot tapped into an international network of Muslim extremists from the US, Guyana, and Trinidad, and utilized the knowledge, expertise, and contacts of the conspirators to develop and plan the plot, and obtain operational support and capability to carry it out. 

For example, it is alleged that as part of the plot, the conspirators dispatched Defreitas from Guyana to conduct video and photo surveillance of JFK airport on four occasions in January 2007. During the surveillance and using his knowledge of airport operations from his prior employment, Defreitas identified targets and escape routes and assessed airport security. 

The defendants also obtained satellite photographs of JFK airport and its facilities from the internet and traveled frequently between the United States, Guyana, and Trinidad to discuss their plans and solicit the financial and technical assistance of others, according to court documents.

The men allegedly used their connections to present their terrorist plot to radical groups in South America and the Caribbean, including senior leadership of Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which was responsible for a deadly coup attempt in Trinidad in 1990. 

According to prosecutors, an informant working with law enforcement agents began monitoring the plot at its early stages and made numerous recorded conversations with the defendants. In one recorded conversation following one of the surveillance missions to JFK airport, according to the prosecutors, Defreitas predicted that the attacks would result in the destruction of “the whole of Kennedy,” that only a few people would survive the attack, and that because of the location of the targeted fuel pipelines, part of Queens would explode.

In that conversation, Defreitas is reported to have said: “Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow…They love John F Kennedy like he’s the man…If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you can kill the man twice.”

Prosecutors claim that in a later recorded conversation with his coconspirators in May 2007, Defreitas compared the plot to attack JFK airport to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, stating, “even the Twin Towers can’t touch it,” and adding that, “this can destroy the economy of America for some time.”

As for Kadir, court papers said, he stressed the goal of causing economic damage and suggested minimizing the killing of innocent men and women. In one conversation, Kadir and Defreitas allegedly discussed the need to disable the airport control tower from which airport security monitors the fuel tank locations. Kadir, an engineer by training, explained that the tanks were, most likely, double tanks, requiring two explosions to provide enough oxygen to ignite the fuel inside the inner tank.

If convicted of conspiring to bomb the JFK airport, the men each face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.