The Newburgh Four — And The Goverment Mole Who Betrayed Them

May 22, 2009 7:57 a.m.

We’re starting to get a rich picture of the four hapless Jihadis who were arrested Wednesday night for plotting to bomb two New York synagogues, as well as the FBI informant who deceived them. And the overall portrait that’s emerging is that of a group of struggling, disaffected petty criminals, who bonded at a Newburgh, NY mosque over having spent time in prison, before being taken in by a Pakistani immigrant looking to win leniency for a crime of his own.

There’s little doubt the bumbling would-be bombers went far enough with the plot to demonstrate that they had the intention to commit terror, and for that they’ll pay the price. But the whole tale comes off perhaps more as a sad glimpse into the lives of a loose group of aimless and obscurely embittered Americans than as a dire illustration of the threat of home-grown terrorism.Based on reports in the New York Times, Post, and Daily News, and the Associated Press, here’s what we’ve learned about five men at the center of plot:

David Cromitie, 44
– Described as the ringleader of the plot, Cromitie has spent 12 years in prison, most recently for selling drugs to undercover officers behind a school.
– During his last two incarcerations, he changed his listed religion from Baptist — the faith in which he was raised — to Muslim. After getting out of prison two years ago, he told relatives that he had converted and his new name was Abdul Rahman. His mother says that when he visited a few years ago, for the first time in 15 years, and told her of his conversion, she told him: “Get out of here.”
– He told the informant last year that his parents had lived in Afghanistan before he was born, and that, thanks in part to that personal tie, he was angry about the US killing of Muslims there. But his mother now says neither she nor his father, who left the family when Cromitie was a young child, ever lived in Afghanistan. Police now think Cromitie was lying to boost his “terror cred.”
– A relative of his girlfriend says: “He was always making up big-time stories. Big whoppers about everything. He would just lie for conversation.”
– He would host the other three men on the “creaky porch” of his Newburgh home, drinking and barbecuing.
– He admitted in court yesterday that he had smoked pot before the bust, and smokes “regularly.”

David Williams, 28
– David Williams had lately grown a beard and started to read the Koran on slow nights at his steakhouse job.
– After buying a gun for $700 from a man he described as a “supreme Blood gang leader” for use in the plot, he told the informant that he would have shot the gangster and kept the money had the two men been alone.
– Prosecutors said he was “bragging, boasting he’d shoot anyone who tried to stop him” from carrying out the plot Wednesday night, and that he said he was looking forward to watching news accounts of the attacks.
– He suggested that the men refer to the synagogues they intended to destroy as “joints.”
– He once told the parole board he dreamed of being a chef.
– He has a 7-year-old daughter and a newborn son. He had recently moved to Newburgh from New York City where he had been studying computer science, to live with his mother and help care for his younger brother who was dying of cancer. “David’s a very sensitive man,” says a longtime friend. His girlfriend described him as “a beautiful person in-and-out.”

Onta Williams, 32 (no apparent relation to David)
– At a 2003 sentencing, Onta Williams’ lawyer said he had been addicted to cocaine since he was a teenager.
– While the men were plotting the attack, he said that since the US military is “killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here with I.E.D.’s and Stingers, it is equal.”
– His uncle said that he was “brainwashed” in prison by converted Muslims, after his mother died and he became embroiled in a custody battle with his ex-wife.
– He used to enjoy singing and doing impersonations. But his sister now says: “Right now, to me he’s, like, the dumbest person on this Earth.”

Laguerre Payen, 27
– Maybe the most pathetic of a pathetic bunch, Payen was unemployed and took medication for schizophrenia. A law enforcement source said that on Wednesday night, Payen “was off his meds – needing to be particularly crazy to do the deed.” He was hospitalized after the arrest.
– His lawyer said he is “intellectually challenged” and has “a very low borderline” IQ.
– A cousin said his mother is also mentally ill, and his father is dead. She said doesn’t think Payen knows how to read.
– A recent visitor to his apartment said it contained bottles of urine, and raw chicken on the stovetop. Elsewhere it was described as a “filthy crack den.”
– He had previously served 15 months for assault, after driving around the Orthodox-Jew-heavy town Monsey, firing a BB gun out of the window. He struck two teens, and also snatched two purses.
– He was supposed to be deported back to Haiti, but an immigration judge stayed the sentence, because he was judged insane.

The Informant
– An upstate motel owner, identified by the New York Post as Shahed Hussain, 52, he became a government informant in 2002, after he was busted for helping immigrants cheat on drivers tests while working as a DMV translator. He was hoping to win leniency in his sentencing and avoid being deported to Pakistan. (It’s unclear how the Post got Hussain’s name. A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office told TPMmuckraker it was not released by the government).
– He started showing up at the Newburgh mosque, where all four men attended services, around 2007. An imam at the mosque said he invited other worshipers out for meals, and talked about Jihad. “There was just something fishy about him,” said the imam, saying that some members “believed he was a government agent.”
– The imam also said he had been told that Hussain offered at least one member of the congregation a substantial amount of money to join his “team.”
– The owner of a local restaurant (either Denny’s or Danny’s — reports differ) where the Newburgh Four would regularly eat rice and beans said that a few months ago, a fifth man starting showing up. He appeared to be of South Asian descent and would usually pay for the meal. The restaurant owner said he thought the man was the boss.
– This isn’t his first sting operation. A few years ago, he posed as an arms dealer who had sold a shoulder-launched missile to be used to kill a Pakistani envoy. Two Albany men, Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, helped him launder money from the supposed sale, and were convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

It’s easy to laugh at this gang of goons — and we’ve done our share of that. But, frankly, it’s also hard not to feel some compassion for what looks like a group of struggling, credulous, under-educated men, existing on the fringes of society, who lacked the intelligence or willpower to avoid getting taken in by a government informant anxious to mitigate his own situation, and by their own vague understanding of radical Islam and the hole it might fill in their lives.

And as for what this might say about the threat of home-grown terror, it’s almost reassuring that the biggest terror bust we’ve seen in a while has this sad-sack group at his center.

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