Men plead not guilty in New York synagogue plot

Suspects allegedly conspired to dress as Jewish worshipers, bomb synagogues in Manhattan; US lawyer: "This is terrorism and a hate crime."

new york skyline (photo credit: Gary Hershorn / Reuters)
new york skyline
(photo credit: Gary Hershorn / Reuters)
NEW YORK - Two men pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges they bought guns and a hand grenade and plotted to blow up synagogues and other buildings in New York City.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, an Algerian, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, a Moroccan-born US citizen, were indicted on weapons and terrorism charges in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
RELATED:New SoHo synagogue courts young, hip JewsParis synagogue bomber's extradition approved
Prosecutors say the two men conspired between October 2010 and May 2011 to dress as Jewish worshipers and bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan. Police have said they appear to have worked alone, without any ties to established militant groups.
Authorities say the suspects met an undercover detective several times, expressed a desire to kill Jews and bought semiautomatic handguns, ammunition and an inert grenade.
"Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism but also a hate crime," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement.
Elizabeth Fink, who represents Ferhani, said the charges were politically motivated and used by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police to "drive a wedge" between New Yorkers of different backgrounds.
Fink said the most serious charges had been downgraded, from second-degree conspiracy charges to charges in the fourth degree. That, she said, reflects the weakness of the evidence against her client, who she said suffers from psychiatric problems. She also said the case was one of "entrapment."
The May 10 arrest of the two men came just over a week after the killing of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden but authorities have made clear the alleged plot had begun months earlier.
In an unrelated case two years ago, four men were arrested for placing what they thought were explosives outside synagogues in the Bronx. The men were videotaped making vitriolic anti-Semitic statements to an FBI informant, although their defense lawyers argued they were entrapped.
They were convicted after a trial in Manhattan federal court and are awaiting sentencing.