Terror case conference cancelled

Scratch Friday’s scheduled court appearance for one of the four Newburgh men charged with attempting to blow up Bronx synagogues and shoot down military aircraft at Stewart Air Base.

White Plains lawyer Theodore Green had requested the hearing for his client David Williams to determine if officials at the Westchester County Jail were restricting Williams from properly assisting in his defense by holding him in 23-hour lockdown away from the general population.

But Green filed a letter to U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon that said he had met with the warden and the situation has been straightened out. Williams has been moved back into general population and has the same law library access as two of his co-defendants (Onta Williams and James Cromitie) who are also being held at the jail in Valhalla. The fourth defendant in the case, Laguerre Payen, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

The next court appearance for the four accused men will be April 30.

Bharara addresses terrorist trial in NYC

During a news conference in White Plains today to announce the arrests of 37 people in connection with a Westchester County drug ring, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was asked about the decision by his bosses at the Justice Department and the White House to bring self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists to New York to stand trial in a civilian court.

“We’re honored and proud that the Attorney General is sending the case to the Southern District of New York and we’ve answered that call,” Bharara said. “And our job is to make the best criminal case that we can and that’s what we do best and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Terror indictment filed in Manhattan

An Indian national living in Queens illegally and another man who is still at large were charged in a federal indictment with attempting to provide guns, ammunition, vehicles, bulletproof vests and night vision goggles to Hizballah, the terrorist group based in Lebanon, federal authorities said today.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced this morning that Patrick Nayyar, 45, had already been arrested last month by the FBI in the Eastern District of New York. Those charges, contained in a criminal complaint, accuse Nayyar of being an illegal alien in possession of a handgun. The other defendant, Conrad Stanisclaus Mulholland, 43, has not yet been arrested.

Federal authorities said the two men agreed to sell the items to a man who they thought was an operative for Hizballah but who actually was an infomant working for the FBI.

Read the indictment here.

Bernie Kerik: Pirro’s still on the air?

Former NYPD commish Bernie Kerik has, for the most part, ignored the coterie of reporters who have attended his appearances in federal court in White Plains. Queries are met with a polite “no comment” and the same non-plussed look that Kerik has carried since his first appearance on Nov. 9, 2007, after he was indicted on charges of public corruption, tax fraud, and lying to White House officials.

But today as his lawyers and federal prosecutors talked with a federal judge in the judge’s chambers about a separate federal grand jury investigation, Kerik ambled over to the rail between the defense table and the gallery rows and struck up a conversation with me that went from weather, to terrorism, to Jeanine Pirro’s TV show, “Judge Jeanine Pirro.”

Talking about the case of  Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant accused of being an al-Qaida operative who plotted to carry out terrorist attacks in New York City, Kerik wondered if al-Qaida might not be aping the tactics of the notorious Cali drug cartel. Kerik said the Cali cartel used to send their hit squad operatives in teams where each team would have no idea of the others’ existence or the mission until until their overseas handler told them to meet up. Kerik said if Zazi had been successful in carrying out any attacks the effect would be greater than 9/11 regardless of whether the attacks approached the scale of  9/11.

“It would shut us down,” he said.

News of the federal investigation of Kerik broke when Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester district attorney, announced ahead of a news story that she was under investigation for allegedly conspiring with Kerik to illegally bug her husband Albert Pirro Jr.’s boat. Jeanine Pirro suspected her husband of carrying on an extramarital affair on the boat. Neither she nor Kerik were ever charged in connection with that incident.

But Kerik apparently has not been keeping tabs on his alleged co-conspirator.

“Is her show still on?” he asked when Pirro’s name was mentioned.

Yes, it is, Commissioner. Channel 5, 4 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

The FBI director defends operations like the Newburgh terror case

It’s likely that the big issue as the case of the so-called Newburgh Four goes forward will be: What was the engine for the alleged plot? Was it self-propelled, as in, the four accused Muslim converts acted on their own with the FBI’s informant merely the investigators’ eyes and ears into the plot to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and military airplanes at an Air National Guard base in New Windsor. Or was it informant-driven, meaning that the FBI’s informant led the four into a plot that would never otherwise have jelled or moved forward.
The actions of the informant and how he was managed by his FBI handlers will be explored if the case goes to trial. The day after the four were arrested, the Iman at the Newburgh mosque where a couple of the accused worshipped said other worshippers complained to him about a man who was offering money to those who would join him in some undertaking. FBI director Robert Mueller III defends the bureau’s practice of using informants at mosques to gather information on other worshippers and clerics in an AP story carried on the web site ticklethewire.com

Ouch

There have been few days as busy as Thursday in the Brieant courthouse. Two criminal trials plus the”open for business” sign on the bankruptcy trustee’s office would have made the courthouse standing room only on any day.

But you toss in the Newburgh alleged jihadists’ presentments and the accompanying tsunami of media descending on the courthouse and you have one for the books.

The bustle and high-profile case were enough for Susanne Brody, the sharp-tongued chief of the Federal Defenders Office, to point out that most days I’m lurking around the courthouse, there’s nothing so intense going on.

“Well, look at you,” she said as we met on our way into the accused would-be terrorists’ hearing. “I guess even a blind chipmunk finds a nut once in a while.”