NEW YORK – Two men accused in a terrorist plot hoped to cause a spectacular explosion that would kill thousands at New York's Kennedy International Airport and avenge U.S. oppression of Muslims, a prosecutor said Monday at the men's trial.
The defendants wanted to blow up jet fuel tanks at the sprawling airport, causing an explosion "so massive ... that it could be seen from far, far away," Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmad said in closing arguments in federal court in Brooklyn.
Their vision prompted them to code name the plot "The Shining Light," the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Mildred Whalen countered by accusing a government informant of manipulating a ragtag crew of delusional dupes who had "seen too many Bruce Willis movies." She called her client Russell Defreitas a "weak-minded, foolish man with a big mouth."
Defreitas, 66, a former JFK cargo handler, and Abdul Kadir, 58, once a member of Parliament in Guyana, were arrested in 2007 before they could get beyond the planning stages after the informant — a convicted drug dealer — infiltrated the plot and made a series of secret recordings.
Prosecutors say Defreitas did reconnaissance on the airport, sought the help of a militant Muslim group in Trinidad along with Kadir and dreamt of delivering a devastating economic blow to the United States.
Defreitas, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Guyana, "is a classic homegrown extremist," Ahmad said.
At trial, the government's evidence included tapes of Defreitas that showed he was determined to avenge the mistreatment of Muslims in the United States and abroad with an attack that would "dwarf 9/11," Ahmad said Monday. He also told the informant that his U.S. citizenship gave him cover, the prosecutor added.
"The don't expect nobody in this country to do something like this," she quoted him as saying. "They have their eyes on foreigners, not me."
As part of the plot, Defreitas and the informant traveled to Guyana to try to meet with Kadir and show him homemade surveillance videotapes of the airport's so-called fuel farms, the prosecutor said. The plotters also discussed reaching out to Adnam Shukrijumah, an al-Qaida operative and explosives expert who was believed to be hiding out in the Caribbean at the time, she added.
Defreitas' bragging about his inside knowledge of JFK "doesn't mean he's breaking the law," his attorney said Monday. "He's just acting like a fool."
Kadir, while testifying on his on behalf, has denied he was a militant Muslim who spied for Iran for years before joining the JFK scheme. He told jurors he warned the plotters they were violating their religion.
"Islam does not support aggression or killing innocent people," he recalled saying to them.
Kadir's attorney, Kafahni Nkrumah, argued Monday that prosecutors had exaggerated the threat.
"Forget all the bogeyman stuff," he said.
In a rebuttal argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller said Defreitas was devious enough to imagine destruction on a grand scale — and smart enough to know he needed help from Kadir and others to pull it off.
"Many people who commit crimes aren't rocket scientists," he said.
The jury was expected to begin deliberating Tuesday.
Shukrijumah, an FBI-most wanted terrorist, was indicted in federal court in Brooklyn this month on charges he was involved in a failed plot to attack the New York City subway system with suicide bombers.