NYPD officers stand guard outside Riverdale Jewish Center earlier tonight after law enforcement officials briefed elected officials and temple leaders about an attempt, foiled earlier that evening, to plant explosives outside the center and outside Riverdale Temple just a few blocks to the north on Independence Avenue. N. Clark Judd // Riverdale Press
By N. Clark Judd
Four men were arrested in connection with an attempt to plant what they believed to be car bombs in front of Riverdale Temple on Independence Avenue on Wednesday night, according to eyewitnesses and a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The men also allegedly planned to plant explosives near Riverdale Jewish Center, just a few blocks away, and to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles.
“At about 9:15 we heard screaming, and then two gunshots,” said Lindsay Sherman, who lives in an Independence Avenue apartment building.
When she went outside with her boyfriend and members of her family, she said, she saw dozens of law enforcement officers arresting two men near Riverdale Temple.
The two men were whisked into unmarked cars and taken away. She saw a van and another, smaller car, both near Riverdale Temple, also towed away.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and NYPD arrested James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen tonight in connection with this plot.
It is as yet unclear who was arrested at the scene and who wasn’t.
“We were having this nice women’s night out,” said Marilyn Sopher, who was standing in front of the RJC, “and there were, all of a sudden, helicopters and planes … I thought I was in a flight pattern.”
Ms. Sopher later said that aircraft occasionally fly over her house, but “she never saw so many.”
Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of Riverdale Jewish Center got a call from Det. Luis Rodriguez, the 50th Precinct’s community affairs officer, asking him if he could open RJC’s shul for a meeting — Det. Rodriguez couldn’t say what it was about, Mr. Rosenblatt said.
“That’s as much as I knew three minutes before the meeting.”
The alleged would-be bombers believed they were acting in conjunction with a Pakistani terrorist group, said Rabbi Rosenblatt, who was briefed by law enforcement.
The alleged bombers wanted to get back at the United States for its involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rabbi Rosenblatt said he was told.
The person the suspects went to for munitions was an informant working with the FBI, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Meeting with the group in Newburgh and driving with them to a location closer to Stamford, Conn., this person supplied the group with an inactive Stinger missile and three IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that each contained over 30 pounds of inert C-4 plastic explosives, according to the U.S. Attorney’s press release.
The weapons were inoperative. Law enforcement officials watched and waited for the plot to reach its climax, on Independence Avenue under the dim streetlights on this warm summer night, before swooping in to arrest the alleged conspirators.
Asked why Riverdale Jewish Center was targeted, Rabbi Rosenblatt responded, “That’s a good question.”
He said that for those in parts of the world where people eat “the diet of hate,” Israel, the United States and Jewish people in general get conflated.
“Scared? I’m not scared, but it’s sad that two religious institutions would be the target of people filled with hate,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who was on the scene.
His wife was in Riverdale Temple all evening, practicing for a bat mitzvah the weekend after next, he said.
The services, for adults wishing to perform the Jewish rite of passage, will continue as planned, Mr. Dinowitz said.