Federal authorities declined to pursue a case against an "al-Qaida sympathizer" accused of wanting to bomb police stations and post offices in New York City because they believed he was mentally unstable and incapable of pulling off the alleged plot, two law enforcement officials told the Associated Press Monday.
New York Police Department investigators reportedly sought to get the FBI involved at least twice as their undercover investigation of Jose Pimentel unfolded, the officials said. Both times, the FBI concluded that he was not a serious threat, officials said to The AP.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in a press conference Sunday night that Pimentel had been arrested after the NYPD counter-terrorism unit had been surveilling the suspect for more than two years. The Anwar Al-Awlaki fan was gathering supplies and beginning to build bombs to detonate in New York City.
The FBI had concluded that 27-year-old Pimentel "didn't have the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own," one one official told the AP.
The officials were not authorized to speak about the case and spoke on condition of anonymity. New York City authorities said that the FBI was involved in the case, but did not specifically say they declined to pursue the charges.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said there was communication with them but his office felt that given the timeline "it was appropriate to proceed under state charges."
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg said Sunday that Pimentel was motivated by terrorist propaganda and resentment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Authorities said police had to move quickly to arrest Pimentel on Saturday - because he was approximately one hour from being able to detonate explosives.
"He was in fact putting this bomb together," Kelly said. "He was drilling holes and it would have been not appropriate for us to let him walk out the door with that bomb."
Kelly said Awlaki’s death in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30 had refocused Mr. Pimentel’s own timetable for going on the attack.
The Dominican-born suspect is a U.S. citizen, convert to Islam, and lived most of his life in Manhattan. He is being held after his arraignment on numerous terrorism-related charges, and his lawyer said Pimental's behavior leading up to the arrest was not that of a conspirator trying to conceal some violent scheme. His lawyer Joseph Zablocki said Pimentel was public about his activities and was not trying to hide anything.
"I don't believe that this case is nearly as strong as the people believe," Zablocki said to to AP. "He (Pimentel) has this very public online profile. ... This is not the way you go about committing a terrorist attack."
The New York Times reports that Pimental praised Osama bin Laden in posts on his blog, while trying to justify the 9/11 attacks. “People have to understand that America and its allies are all legitimate targets in warfare,” he wrote in May while insinuating that Army bases, police stations and airports were all at risk. Pimental's mother claims her son created trueislam1.com.
Authorizes said Sunday that police believe Pimental was acting as a lone wolf and plotted to bomb police patrol cars and postal facilities, targeted soldiers returning home from abroad, and also talked of bombing a police station in Bayonne, N.J.
Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, was denied bail. AP reports that the suspect smiled at times during the proceeding. His mother and brother attended the arraignment, his lawyer said.
“I want to apologize to the City of New York,” Carmen Sosa, Pimentel's mother, said to the New York Daily News Monday in the lobby of an uptown apartment building.
“I love the city. I’ve been here since 1987 and I’m very disappointed with what my son was doing. I didn’t raise him that way.
“I feel very bad about the situation. I thank the police. They did what they’re supposed to do.”
Sosa went on to tell the Daily News that she noticed her son's attitude changed in 2001 when he converted to Islam:
"'He started reading about the Koran,' she said, describing how the then-teenager man began praying and sleeping a lot.
She said Pimentel’s sudden, fierce embrace of Islam prompted her to move him from upstate Schenectady to Harlem in 2010.
'I brought him here because I didn’t like the way he was acting,' she said. 'I’m Catholic ... I don’t support the Muslims.'”
Alexis Smith, 22, who lives in an apartment in the same building as Pimentel, told AP that she was shocked to here that her neighbor was a suspect in a terrorist plot. "He was always very courteous to us," she said, adding that Pimentel helped her carry groceries and luggage into the building.